In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Gene, Finny, and Leper fear recognizing their own flaws and learning about the harsh realities of a world at war because it affects their decision making causing them to make poor decisions, such as severely hurting one another, more frequently.
Fear surrounds Gene during his time at the Devon school, affecting how he feels towards others as well as how well he trusts others. The fear isolates Gene from his friends and makes him, both, become weary of the evils around him as well as make him see other irrelevant evils.
“Preserved along with it, like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn't even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence,” (Chapter 1). Gene, after returning to the devon school, finds the atmosphere unchanged and still riddled with fear. He is reminded of the fear he felt during his days at the school because, while he attended Devon, World War II was taking place and 17 year-old Gene who was a year away from being drafted feared going off to war.
“I felt fear's echo, and along with that I felt the unhinged, uncontrollable joy which had been its accompaniment and opposite face, joy which had broken out sometimes in those days like Northern Lights across black sky,” (Chapter 1). Surrounded by fear, Gene is trying to find some sort of source of joy. He needs this joy to uplift him because, without it, the terrors surrounding him, such as the war, emotional struggles, and personal rivalries, could drive him insane.
“Any fear I had ever had of the tree was nothing beside this. It wasn't my neck, but my understanding which was menaced. He had never been jealous of me for a second. Now, I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not of the same quality as he,” (Chapter 4). This is what Gene fears, more than Finny's athleticism or charm – his goodness of heart, his pureness of motive. The question is, then, why is Gene free of fear after Finny falls from the tree? His athleticism has been destroyed, but his character hasn't.
“What did he mean by telling me a story like that! I didn't want to hear any more of it. Not now or ever. I didn't care because it had nothing to do with me. And I didn't want to hear any more of it. Ever,” (Chapter 10). Again, Gene lies to himself. What bothers him so much about Leper's visions is that, despite what he says, they have everything to do with him, and with Finny. Gene denies this because he doesn’t want to embrace his own evil potential.
Finny’s innocence leads him to be wilfully blind to many different...