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A Separate Peace is a coming of age novel in which Gene, the main character, revisits his high school and his traumatic teen years. When Gene was a teen-ager his best friend and roommate Phineas (Finny) was the star athlete of the school.
Gene was only a mediocre athlete and is always jealous of Finny. They form a Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session which includes jumping from a tree into a river as its initiation. Eventually, Finny falls from the tree fracturing his leg. This leads to Finny’s death and Gene struggle to find himself. The relationship between these two boys proves my thesis statement; a friend and an enemy can be one in the same.
The characters of Gene and Finny are as opposite as apples and oranges. Finny is
a free spirit and Gene enjoys structure. The main problem though, is that Finny has
“some kind of hold”(9) over Gene. The fact that Gene lets Finny talk him into things
troubles Gene. Therefore, when they form the Suicide Society and jump out of the tree it
becomes destructive for Gene because he is cutting himself off from the structure that
normally runs his life. With all the time commitments to Finny and the society Gene’s
grades plummet. He forms the idea that, “Finny had deliberately set out to wreck my
studies.”(45). Since academics are so important to Gene he begins to resent Finny and he
feels that he has to get revenge. This anger leads to Gene jouncing Finny out of the tree.
The tone of this story changes frequently. Its changes are bases mostly on Genes
feelings toward Finny. Gene often has feeling of resentment and uncertainty about their
friendship; this creates a negative tone. Finny on the other hand seems to make the mood
somewhat whimsical. For example he beets the school swimming record without ever practicing. He also sneaks away to swim and sleep by the ocean. The tone in this novel
is important to the theme because Gene longs to have that same whimsical way that Finny
has. However, Gene can never accomplish this and he becomes very cynical at times.
Symbolism is also very important to this novel. An example of this is the war; it symbolizes several different things. Finny explains to the head master that “We’re all
getting ready for the war”(15)when asked why he was late for dinner.
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because he knows that he will never be able to participate. After trying every branch of
the military and finding only rejection Finny explains to Gene, “I’ll hate it everywhere if I’m not in this war! Why do you think I kept saying there wasn’t any war all winter?” Therefor, war symbolizes limitation and emotional death for Finny. Another major symbol is the tree. “It loomed in my memory as a huge lone spike dominating the river bank, forbidding as an artillery piece....” The fact that he calls it forbidding gives connotation to the tree of life in the bible, and to the fact if they wouldn’t have been jumping off of it Finny might not be dead.
In conclusion we can see how the characters, mood and tone, and the symbols are
all tied to the theme because these two boys are best friends but they are also enemies.
The fact that friends and enemies can be one in the same is very evident in this novel.