Knowles' Separate Peace Essays: Character Traits

Knowles' Separate Peace Essays: Character Traits

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Character Traits in A Separate Peace  

In the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles, one of the

main themes is the effects of realism, idealism, and isolationism on

Brinker, Phineas, and Gene.  Though not everyone can be described

using one of these approaches to life, the approaches

completely conform to these characters to create one realist, one idealist,

and one isolationist; thereby providing the foundation of the novel.

The realist is Brinker.  Brinker's realism takes on a very morbid

quality after Gene decides not to enlist with him, do to Phineas's

return to Devon.  Brinker still sees everything the way it is, but

begins to think that the way it is, is bad.  On page 122, he is quoted

as saying, "Frankly, I just don't see anything

to celebrate, winter or spring or anything else."  Brinker will scrutinize

any incident until he finds a dark side to it, because, in his mind, at least

one side of everything is a dark side.  Already we have the footing for our

climax.

         Phineas (Finny) is the idealist.  Like Brinker, Finny's approach

experiences a grim metamorphoses. Before his accident, Finny sees

the world as a glorious playing field and life as a never ending game.

After his accident; however, Finny begins to view the world through

the eyes of a paranoid old man who is always seeing something

covert in everything.  On page 106, Finny even goes as far

as to ask Gene, "Do you really think that the United States of America is

in a state of war with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?"  This outlook

is a mental facade that only succeeds in setting Finny up for a harder

fall.

         Finally there is the isolationist, Gene.  Gene's approach is

austere from the beginning.  It is Gene who generates the dark

change in the others.  Gene looks for danger in everything he is

emotionally close to.  When he finds danger, he ostracizes

himself from whatever it is that is posing a threat to him.  If he can not

find danger, as with Finny, he creates it.  On page 45 he strives so hard

to create danger in Finny that he falsely concludes that, "Finny had

deliberately set out to wreck my studies."  This creates the story's

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main conflict and brings about Gene's spontaneous act of pure evil

that haunts him and the reader throughout the remainder of the book.

         These characters and these approaches

to life fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to create an intriguing

heart, wrenching tragedy about friendship, war, and loss.  These pieces did

not just happen to fall into place.  The author knew exactly what he was

doing when he assigned  these traits to these characters.  He was

building the destructionof a separate peace.

        

 

 

 
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