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Gene's Development In John Knowles' A Separate Peace

1131 words - 5 pages

Gene's Development in John Knowles' A Separate Peace

Throughout life, there is always a person who one strives to beat, be better than or rise above. Little does each of them know that in the end the two actually make each other stronger. In John Knowles' novel, A Separate Peace (1959), he addresses just this. The novel, told from Gene Forrester's point of view, is based on a friendship and rivalry between him and his friend, Finny, during World War II. The two sixteen year olds attend Devon School, a private all boys' school, in New Hampshire. Finny, a very athletically talented youngster, continually but unintentionally causes Gene to feel inferior and insignificant, producing inevitable anger and jealousy inside Gene. During their summer session in 1942, the boys form a Super Suicide Society; anyone wanting to join the group is required to jump from a specific tree into the running river below. On one particular night, Finny tears the irritated Gene away from his studies for no reason other than to make a plunge from the tree. After arriving at the river, the two creep out on one of the tree's limbs. Balancing as if they were on a tightrope, Gene gives a quick little bounce to the limb, causing Finny to plummet to the riverbank below, severely breaking his leg. No one is aware of Gene's intentional bounce of the tree limb, encouraged by his resentment toward Finny. Gene's jealous action causes Finny's life to change forever. He feels terrible about what he did but cannot bring himself to tell Finny the truth. Faced with many great challenges, Gene struggles through the remainder of the novel trying to find himself and develop into his own person. The truth about the tree incident is finally revealed shortly after Finny breaks his leg once again. During the operation on Finny's leg, bone marrow seeps to his heart, resulting in his death. Little sorrow and sadness is expressed around school, even in Gene; no one talks about what happened but everyone remembers, especially Gene. Throughout the novel, John Knowles' strong characterization of Finny results in a more developed and wiser Gene; in the end, Finny actually makes Gene a better person.

One instance where Knowles uses characterization in order to achieve his purpose is when Gene develops the feeling that Finny is trying to sabotage his chance of being "head of the class, valedictorian" (41). Gene thinks since Finny is the best at sports, he also desires the need to be the best scholastically, although he is "a very poor student" (44). This is Gene's explanation for assuming that Finny "deliberately set out to wreck my [Gene's] studies" (43). Gene, enraged by Finny's actions, figures the motive behind Finny trying to keep him so busy is to throw him off track with his schoolwork. Although this incident caused much jealousy and rivalry in Gene, it actually benefited him tremendously. Gene reveals, " 'I became quite a student after that. . . . Now I became not just good but...

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