Throughout life, there is always a person who one strives to beat, be better than or rise above. Little does each of them know that in the end the two actually make each other stronger. In John Knowles' novel, A Separate Peace (1959), he addresses just this. The novel, told from Gene Forrester's point of view, is based on a friendship and rivalry between him and his friend, Finny, during World War II. The two sixteen year olds attend Devon School, a private all boys' school, in New Hampshire. Finny, a very athletically talented youngster, continually but unintentionally causes Gene to feel inferior and insignificant, producing inevitable anger and jealousy inside Gene. During their summer session in 1942, the boys form a Super Suicide Society; anyone wanting to join the group is required to jump from a specific tree into the running river below. On one particular night, Finny tears the irritated Gene away from his studies for no reason other than to make a plunge from the tree. After arriving at the river, the two creep out on one of the tree's limbs. Balancing as if they were on a tightrope, Gene gives a quick little bounce to the limb, causing Finny to plummet to the riverbank below, severely breaking his leg. No one is aware of Gene's intentional bounce of the tree limb, encouraged by his resentment toward Finny. Gene's jealous action causes Finny's life to change forever. He feels terrible about what he did but cannot bring himself to tell Finny the truth. Faced with many great challenges, Gene struggles through the remainder of the novel trying to find himself and develop into his own person. The truth about the tree incident is finally revealed shortly after Finny bre...
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...now' " (106). That early, snowy morning Finny teaches Gene much more than he will ever learn in a classroom; he teaches Gene the significance and meaning of self-discovery.
Throughout A Separate Peace, John Knowles effectively uses his characterization of Finny to teach one of life's greatest lessons. Although at times Gene and Finny appear to be enemies, the tests and challenges Finny presents to Gene actually cause him to blossom, making him a stronger person. Despite Finny's death, his wisdom, courage and actions live on in Gene. Gene learns that throughout life accomplishments that one works for and achieves will provide much more reward than those handed to a person. Many times, the greatest reward is finding one's true self and discovering his or her capabilities.
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1959.
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