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The Reality Of War In John Knowles' A Separate Peace

3297 words - 13 pages

The Reality of War in John Knowles' A Separate Peace

In his book A Separate Peace John Knowles communicates what war really is. He uses a number of complex characters in a very complicated plot in order to convey the harsh, sad, cruel, destructive forces of war. The Characters Gene and Finny are used as opposing forces in a struggle between that cold reality of war-that is World War II in this story-and a separate peace. A peace away from the real war and all of the terrible things that come with it. Through their relationship, that is a struggle on both sides from the beginning, Knowles establishes the reality of war in all of its essence.

Gene Forrester is established as the force of reality which is the war. This idea is established clearly in a lengthy speech Gene gives as the narrator of the story in Chapter Three:

Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person "the world today" or "life" or "reality" he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted itself upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever. (32)

This statement explains that Gene must have something that is his "stamp." This stamp appears to define an individual-exemplifying what he stands for. It is found that this is true in the next paragraph where Gene continues, "For me, this moment-four years is a moment in history-war the war. The war was and is reality for me. I still live and think in its atmosphere" (32). Later in the same paragraph he goes on to say:

America is not, never has been, and never will be what the songs and poems call it, a land of plenty. Nylon, meat, gasoline, and steel are rare. There are too many jobs and not enough workers. Money is very easy to earn but rather hard to spend, because there isn't very much to buy. . .The war will always be fought very far away from America and it will never end. Nothing in America stands still for very long, including the people, who are always either leaving or on leave. (32)

This is what Gene stands for in the story of A Separate Peace. Gene appears to omnisciently understand the reality of war and how it effects people. Throughout the entire story Gene is used to bring in the destructive reality of war into the everyday life at Devon High School where there is an attempt to create, and exist in, a separate peace.

There is however quite an opposition to this reality-known by Gene-that is headed by Gene's best friend Finny. Finny has his own "reality." Finny displays this reality throughout the whole book just as Gene acts throughout the whole book. From the perspective of the narrator, Gene, Finny's world is one where there are a lot of things that Finny does to try and substitute for the real war. This world or "reality" that Finny creates and exists in is the...

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