Use of Symbols and Symbolism in Knowles' Separate Peace

Use of Symbols and Symbolism in Knowles' Separate Peace

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Use of Symbolism in  A Separate Peace                      


John Knowles uses the literary element of symbolism in his novel, A Separate Peace. Gene, a student at the Devon Prep School in New Hampshire, tries to understand the love, hate, and jealousy that he feels for his roommate Phineas, nicknamed "Finny." Knowles uses the Assembly Hall, the marble staircase, and the locker room to symbolize how Gene's spitefulness affects Finny, and how this effect leads Gene into adulthood.

            As the effects of Gene's spiteful feelings toward Finny are developed, the Assembly Hall in which Gene's trial takes place is symbolic. Brinker, a classmate, leads some of Gene's peers to bring him to the Assembly Hall. At this time, Gene further realizes that he shook the limb on purpose, which causes Finny to fall out of the tree. Gene's peers are beginning to doubt his innocence. Finny has a burst of anger at the end of Gene's trial in the Assembly Hall. During this outburst, Finny says; "I just don't care. Nevermind" (168). Finny's outburst causes his second injury, which is rooted in Gene's spitefulness towards him. Gene's feelings and their effects are linked together by the Assembly Hall. Finny's anger toward the events of the trial eventually leads to his own death as he storms out into the corridor.

As Finny runs down the corridor, the marble staircase that he approaches is symbolic. Finny storms out of the Assembly Hall in which Gene's trial is being held and begins running down the corridor. At this point, Finny fully realizes that Gene intentionally shook the limb, which made Finny fall out of the tree. Finny is in denial, thus causing him to storm out of the room. When Finny reaches the marble staircase, he falls, breaking his leg once again. This injury kills him due to the doctor's mistake while setting the broken bone. Gene's spiteful feelings can be directly connected to the events that took place during and after the Assembly Hall trial. Consequently, the marble staircase symbolizes how Gene's spiteful feelings ultimately cause Finny's death.

            At the end of the school session after Finny's death, Gene's cleaning out his locker is another symbolic act. Gene says, "Brinker went upstairs to continue his packing, and I walked over to the gym to clean out my locker" (193).

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As school ends for Gene, he still thinks of Finny. While cleaning his locker, Gene moves on from his school years and moves into adulthood. Gene reflects, "Phineas created an atmosphere in which I continue now to live" (194). Although Gene is moving on, he cannot forget about Finny. Finny will always be a part of Gene's life. Thus, the locker room symbolizes Gene's remembrance of Finny even as he moves into adulthood.

            The Assembly Hall and the marble staircase symbolize the effects of Gene's spitefulness toward Finny. The main effect being Finny's death. The locker room symbolizes how Gene deals with these effects. All of these symbols are places located on the Devon campus. These three symbols all lead to the fact that Gene directly caused Finny's death. This is a fact that Gene must deal with throughout his adult life. Finny leaves a lasting impression on him. Finny will always be in Gene's memory, even after his death.
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