The Importance of Individuality in John Knowles' A Separate Peace

The Importance of Individuality in John Knowles' A Separate Peace

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The Importance of Individuality in John Knowles' A Separate Peace


"There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion. It is harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." (Ralph Waldo Emerson) A Separate Peace (1959) written by John Knowles, expresses the true struggle to respect ones individuality. In 1942 at a private school in New Hampshire Gene Forrester became good friends with his roommate, Finny. He envies Finny for his great Athletic ability. In spite of the envy, Gene and Finny do everything together and one day for fun they decide to jump out of a tree into the river. After that they form the Super Suicide Society, the first time they jumped being their reason for formation. During one of their meetings they decide to jump off at the same time. When they get up on the limb Gene bounces it and Finny falls on the bank. He shatters the bones in his leg and will never again play sports. Nobody realizes that Gene deliberately made Finny lose his balance. Because of the accident Gene does not play sports either and continues being friends with Finny. One night, some of the other guys from Devon School woke Gene and Finny up in the middle of the night. They are suspicious of the "accident." They conduct a trial to blame Gene for what has happened to Finny. Eventually Finny gets upset in the midst of argument and runs out. He ends up tripping and falling down the stairs, and breaking his healed leg allover again. It was a cleaner break this time but they still have to set it. Gene confesses to Finny that he bounced him out of the tree. While setting the break there are complications and Finny dies. Gene learns that he is his own person and now that Finny is gone he can finally be content with himself. In the beginning Gene feels inferior to Finny.

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Though after Finny is gone Gene realizes that he does not have to compete with him to be the better person that he is.

At the beginning of the story Gene is envious of Finny. Finny is everything he wants to be. He wishes he were as Athletically gifted as Finny. It is obvious that Finny has talent when he breaks the schools swimming record on his first try ever without any practice. To Finny, Gene tries to appear happy but inside he feels differently. This feeling comes out as he thinks to himself, "Perhaps for that reason his accomplishment took root in my mind and grew rapidly in the darkness where I was forced to hide it" (page 36). This thought points out that it bothers Gene that Finny can achieve such great things and stay so modest. Finny brings out the bad in of his friend, Gene, with this action of calmness about the broken swimming record.

Later in the novel at a Super Suicide Society assembly Finny has the idea that both of the boys jump out of tree into the river at the same time. Gene could not easily say no to Finny so he went along with it. They got to the limb where they normally jump and Finny moved out first then Gene made his move, "Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent and I jounced the limb" (page 52). At this point it's thought that Finny definitely brings out the worst in Gene. Finny becomes so daring and courageous that Gene sees it impossible to keep up with him and finds himself struggling for power. This act of throwing Finny off balance brings Gene a feeling of victory over his friend's dominance.

After Finny's death not much sadness exsisted in Genes mind, yet there was still some guilt. Most of all a feeling of complete triumph swept over him. He realized that Finny did not make him who he was inside thus Finny was fighting against him, "this enemy who never attacked that way-if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy" (pg. 196). This shows he felt he had won the war not just a battle. Now that Finny was gone Gene no longer had to be somebody better than himself. Though Finny was dead this was the best quality he brought out in his friend, a sense of individuality.

Gene grows as a person through his friend Finny in this Novel. He starts out thinking he could never live up to the greatness that he bestowed upon Finny. However, by the time Finny is gone, Gene becomes in many ways a better person, at least as an individual. "Individuality is freedom lived" (John Dos Passos).

Work Cited

Knowles, John. A Separate Peace . The Macmillan Company
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