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A Separate Peace Critical Lens Essay Question

A Separate Peace Literary Criticism

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Competition in A Separate Peace In John Knowles’s novel A Separate Peace, Knowles describes a life-changing sequence of events, as seen by Gene Forrester, which takes place at Devon Boarding School. Gene constantly finds himself struggling to find the truth about his relationship with Finny. Peter Wolfe states that the novel, “cries to be read in the context of original sin,” and Novels for Students references that, “the real struggle is fought in the hearts of the characters, not on the battlefield. Both the sin and struggle come together when Gene places himself in a competition with Finny, which can only end with one definite winner. Many different factors contribute to the theme of competition including: the physical abilities of each boy, the internal characteristics of each boy, and Gene’s jealousy and envy of Finny. Gene sees his competition with Finny as merely physical, between academics and sports. It is made clear that each character excels in one particular field, Finny in sports and Gene in academics.

All sports seem to come naturally to Finny, and Wolfe describes his ability in sports in that, “His [Finny’s] athletic prowess stems not from brawn but his superb coordination and vitality. ” (Wolfe 138). Although Gene still did well in sports, he was nowhere near Finny’s athletic level. Gene was, however, far more advanced in academics, and was far more applied academically than Finny. He had set his goals high, ultimately aiming to be the class valedictorian- a goal that seemed easily achievable, with his only distraction being Finny.

Finny was not at all proficient in academics, maintaining a “D” average at best, never feeling the need to try. Gene sensed a competition developing between Finny and he, and felt the need to be even with Finny. In a way, Gene had achieved- he was competent in academics and decent in sports while Finny was spectacular in athletics and ineffectual in school. Gene believed that Finny not only wanted to be even but be better, and Gene describes this belief by saying, “He minded, despised the possibility that I might be head of the school. ” (Knowles 52).

As Novels for Students puts it, “Throughout the novel, Gene compares and contrasts himself with his best friend, Finny, and often falls short in his own estimation. ” (Novels 244). Gene and Finny may be even on a physical level, but the reason he falls short is because there is more to the competition than meets the eye. The competition goes deeper into the defining characteristics of the pure and unadulterated Finny and the far less innocent Gene. Finny is a loyal friend who is confident in himself but somewhat naive towards the rest of the world, always believing the best about people.

Finny’s loyalty is represented when he says, “Naturally I don’t believe books and I don’t believe teachers, but I do believe- it’s important after all for me to believe you. ” (Knowles 163). Even after his accident, Finny fully trusted his friend Gene, even though it seemed obvious that Gene had stabbed him in the back. Gene however is quite the opposite- he is extremely self-conscious and he will do anything to be the best, even turn against his best friend. Leper described Gene quite accurately; he is a “savage”. Gene is also over-analytical of everything, especially Finny, and that causes him to make false assumptions.

Gene’s self-consciousness, over-analyzing, and savagery lead him to creating a version of Finny in his mind, in which they would be on the same level of morality. So, Gene believes that Finny’s every move is an attempt to get even, and where their entire friendship was a lie. As Ronald Weber puts it, “It is Phineas’s innocence that gene cannot endure. As long as he can believe Phineas shares his enmity, he can find relief, but with this assurance gone, he stands condemned before himself and must strike out against his tormentor” (Weber 244).

Gene had to get even with Finny- both physically and morally. He would do anything to win the competition. As Peter Wolfe says, “The first movers of our consciousnesses are ‘ignorant’ in that they override reason and order. But unless we give them full rein we can never unroll our energies full force. ” (Wolfe 136). Gene’s jealousy of Finny’s athletic ability and social skills is the basis for the competition in Gene’s mind. Finny is a natural at sports, and like any other teenage boy, Gene was jealous.

Unlike most teenage boys, Gene takes his jealousy to the next level towards hate for Finny, simply because he is better. Gene flatly expressed his hate for Finny when he said, “You [referring to himself] did hate him for breaking that swimming record, but so what? ” (Knowles 53). Not only was Finny a natural a sports, but he also had a knack for talking his way out of troubling situations. Gene admired Finny’s ability at first, but soon grew into jealousy of it. Gene explains his envy of Finny’s persuasive abilities when he says, “I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything.

I couldn’t help envying him that a little” (Knowles 25) and later adds, “This time he wasn’t going to get away with it. I could feel myself becoming unexpectedly excited at that. ” Gene became increasingly jealous, until he can’t stand it anymore and hopes for Finny’s punishment. Another fact that spikes Gene’s jealousy is that Finny does not reciprocate his feelings of envy, and explains that, “Now I knew there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not the same quality as he.

I could not stand this. ” (Knowles 59). This was the straw that broke that Gene’s back. His jealousy had risen to a new height completely overriding any reasonable thinking, and allowed him to purposely jounce Finny out of the tree, bringing his competition to a tragic end. In the end, Gene was no match for Finny- he was nowhere near as good of a person, barely matched him in physical abilities, and his jealousy drove him further down. In the competition of sports v. athletics Gene won with terrible consequences.

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In the competition of moral character, Finny was a sure win; his innocence remained, while Gene had to experience the death of his best friend in order to become wise. Through the course of the book, Knowles showed how competition can bring out the worst in people, and how it can divide the innocent from the guilty. Some good must come from any competition, and even though this may have resulted in death, Gene matured greatly- getting rid of his traits that lead to this competition in the beginning.

Author: Brandon Johnson

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A Separate Peace Literary Criticism

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A Separate Peace Overview

A Separate Peace retrospectively tells the coming of age story of two New England preparatory school boys shadowed by the impending World War II. Roommates and best friends Gene and Phineas must face a friendship beset by jealousies, violence and the effects of a new war as they struggle to find their own kind of peace.

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A Separate Peace Study Guide

Encyclopedia Articles (2)

9,514 words, approx. 32 pages
A Separate Peace - John Knowles - 1959 Introduction A Separate Peace is John Knowles's most famous work and has been a popular secondary school text since its first publication in 1959. This is... Read more
3,861 words, approx. 13 pages
A Separate Peace by John Knowles John Knowles was born in 1926 and attended the prestigious New England boarding school Phillips Exeter Academy in the early 1940s. The following decade Knowles wrot... Read more

John Knowles Biographies (2)

10,037 words, approx. 34 pages
Biography EssayJohn Knowles, the third of four children of James Myron and Mary Beatrice Shea Knowles, was born in Fairmont, West Virginia. He has an older brother and sister who are twins, and a youn... Read more
11,690 words, approx. 39 pages
[This entry was updated by Hallman Bell Bryant (Clemson University) from the entry by Robert M. Nelson (University of Richmond) in the Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, volume 6, pp. ... Read more

Essays & Analysis (80)

1,106 words, approx. 4 pages
John Knowles' novel A Separate Peace is based considerably on the time he spent himself at Philips Exeter Academy. John Knowles was admitted to the academy in September 1943. The summer session of 19... Read more
1,174 words, approx. 4 pages
"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...The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinte... Read more
387 words, approx. 2 pages
The imagery in the book A Separate Peace written by John Knowles was manifest through his use of similes and symbolisms. The imagery brought out by Knowles enhanced the flavors and colors of the story... Read more
851 words, approx. 3 pages
A Separate Peace is a captivating novel compounded by a genius.  This brilliant author, John Knowles, not only wrote a wonderful story, but he smothered it in symbolism.  The comparisons tha... Read more
504 words, approx. 2 pages
"It wasn't the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special a... Read more
1,498 words, approx. 5 pages
Does Finny Equal Fun and Brinker Discipline" A Separate Peace, written by John Knowles, is about a boy, Gene, who spent his summer at The Devon School along with his best friend Finny. The summer is... Read more
951 words, approx. 4 pages
Loyalty to Friendship Gene Forrester the narrator of A Separate Peace, never failed a test until his roommate Finny challenges Gene's conformist viewpoints. Gene accommodated Finny, by following his... Read more
553 words, approx. 2 pages
A Separate Peace Not guilty is when you're innocent from what you are being accused of. In A Separate Peace, Gene was blamed for killing Finny, which is not true. Gene was charged for killing hi... Read more
852 words, approx. 3 pages
Main Characters in "A Separate Peace" The four main characters in A Separate Peace are Gene Forrester, Phineas (Finny), Leper Lepellier, and Brinker Hadley. All of the characters change in one way ... Read more
988 words, approx. 4 pages
Two Sides of the Story The rivers in A Separate Peace by John Knowles play an important part of the plot. It is a river that stands between life and death when the boys jump from the tree,... Read more
773 words, approx. 3 pages
A Piece of A Separate Piece In John Knowles' novel, A Separate Peace, there are a number of themes: competition and jealousy, the effects of denial, and how the combination w... Read more
409 words, approx. 2 pages
In most books the author creates a theme to the book. In The book A Separate Peace, many themes were used to get across the point of the story. Among these themes were: escape from reality, conformit... Read more
382 words, approx. 2 pages
Gene has a natural reserved and conforming personality. He would rather go along with what each and every person is doing than it is for him to show his own style. Gene never expresses his precise fe... Read more
1,346 words, approx. 5 pages
The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4 is a classic example of jealousy and rage. The story goes that Cain and Abel, brothers and sons of Adam and Eve, bring offerings to the Lord. God look... Read more
1,007 words, approx. 4 pages
In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Phineas is the main character who looms larger than life in that he is charismatic, caring, and true to heart. It is necessary for Phineas to die at the end of th... Read more
533 words, approx. 2 pages
In A Separate Peace, the main characters are foils of one another. The plot is pushed along by the changing dynamics of their friendship. Their relationship begins to drift apart when their personal... Read more
888 words, approx. 3 pages
The decision of what to do and make of life usually confronts most people in adolescence. At two private schools, boys learn that choices can affect their lives for years to come. In A Separate Peace... Read more
903 words, approx. 4 pages
"Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone... you have ceased to live" (Mark Twain). A person often creates illusions to make the world just right for himself. In A Separate Peace, by John... Read more
973 words, approx. 4 pages
John Knowles' A Separate Peace is a young boy's struggle to discover personal identity in an ever-changing world. Gene develops an intense resentment towards Finny because he embodies charisma, talent... Read more
807 words, approx. 3 pages
In the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Gene and Finny are two friends with very different character traits. Finny is more laid back and would rather have fun than work. Gene is a very hard wo... Read more
818 words, approx. 3 pages
"..I lost a part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first to become a part of Phineas." A Separate Peace, a novel written by J... Read more
1,927 words, approx. 7 pages
What is inhumanity? The definition of inhumanity is the lack of pity or compassion; a cruel act. In the novel, A Separate Peace, there are many inhumane actions displayed. The main character, Gene ... Read more
1,371 words, approx. 5 pages
Quotations From Text Conflict "This tree flooded me with a sensation of alarm all the way to my tingling fingers. My head began to feel unnaturally light, and the vague rustling sounds from the near... Read more
609 words, approx. 3 pages
Gene and Finny greatly differ from each other. They both have different qualities and traits. Some of them may be bad and some of them may be good. Once you understand Gene and Finny's role in A Se... Read more
1,818 words, approx. 7 pages
Today in our society many people think it's an admirable thing to have complete control of another's mind and what they do with their actions. For instance in high school guys are supposed... Read more
693 words, approx. 3 pages
The main character, Gene Forrester returns to visit the campus of Devon School, an all-boys elementary school in rural New Hampshire, which he attended fifteen years ago. Two locations have a mysterio... Read more
433 words, approx. 2 pages
In the book, "A Separate Peace," Phineas, or Finny, was a rebellious, yet modest, and charming young man. He was well-liked by most people. These characteristics make him a very interesting person. ... Read more
1,035 words, approx. 4 pages
John Knowles is a known author based on his most famous novel "A Separate Peace." "A Separate Peace" is not merely a title or phrase, but is in concordance with how the main character Gene gains fr... Read more
632 words, approx. 3 pages
World War II was a frightening and chaotic time in history. In great distress, many people found a way to ignore and distance themselves from the war. The novel, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, se... Read more
600 words, approx. 3 pages
Throughout chapter four of A Separate Peace, there are many biblical allusions. In particular, the story of Eden, and the resurrection of Lazarus are mentioned as ways of presenting the similarities ... Read more
848 words, approx. 3 pages
The book "A Separate Peace" contained many different and unusual, yet original relationships between the many characters in the book. There are many exciting and emotional relationships that occur i... Read more
1,589 words, approx. 6 pages
Everyone needs a friend in their lives. A good friend is one who can be trusted, obliging, and will be there when one needs them the most. A friendship is either a good relationship or a bad one. A Se... Read more
2,015 words, approx. 7 pages
Question # 8 Many claim that Finny can be a very manipulative person. He uses this power to make people do whatever he wants them to. I feel that Finny uses this power too often towards Gene and hi... Read more
1,246 words, approx. 5 pages
A Separate Peace, a novel by John Knowles, opens with the narrator revisiting the Devon School located in New Hampshire, the school he attended fifteen years ago. Visiting sites such as the marble s... Read more
687 words, approx. 3 pages
What do you do when you're jealous of your best friend? Why? Is it because they're funny and likeable? Is it because they don't choose sides; they're on everyone's team? It because they seem to get aw... Read more
1,176 words, approx. 4 pages
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693 words, approx. 3 pages
A Separate Peace, written by John Knowles, tells the story of two boys at a boarding school and how they discover their true selves. Throughout the book, many themes become apparent, one being the th... Read more
906 words, approx. 4 pages
One example of symbolism John Knowles' A Seprate Peace is from page one. As Gene visits Devon School, he finds it looking oddly newer than when he was a student there fifteen years before. Gene notic... Read more
1,166 words, approx. 4 pages
A Separate Peace; Does Jealousy Destroy a Friendship" It was once said that jealousy is no more than feeling alone against smiling enemies, but what about being jealousy of a friend? Does jealousy ... Read more
1,166 words, approx. 4 pages
"My war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there" (204). When Gene Forrester stated this quote in A Separate Peace by John Knowles, he ... Read more
731 words, approx. 3 pages
A Separate Peace Literary Analysis In the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, friendship is a major but complicated theme. This idea is expressed through the relationship between two boarding... Read more
726 words, approx. 3 pages
A Separate War In John Knowles' novel A Separate Peace, like most other literature, conflict resides within the main character himself. Throughout the course of the novel, Gene Forrester struggles to... Read more
1,421 words, approx. 5 pages
In Separate Peace, by John Knowles, the characters are incredibly unique and have various sources of motivation. Some of the characters are intrinsically motivated, they motivate themselves and do not... Read more
494 words, approx. 2 pages
A Separate Peace The war is a constant environment for the boys at Devon they become used to it surrounding them. One boy in particular is getting interested in the war not so much interested but no... Read more
893 words, approx. 3 pages
In our lives, we grow each living day. When we are born, we are helpless and innocent, simply living though the day with no complex thoughts. As adults, we are sure and confident of ourselves as we pr... Read more
827 words, approx. 3 pages
Everything seemed perfect about Gene and Finny’s relationship with each other; however Gene went above and beyond the limit of “idolizing”. Competition arose. A little competition b... Read more
1,675 words, approx. 6 pages
When does one need protection from his life? This could be answered in many different ways. One person can need protection to hide from an experience that's been haunting their lives like a death in t... Read more
760 words, approx. 3 pages
Disparity vs. Equality A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, takes place in a New England boarding school during World War 2. The two main characters, best friends Phineas and Gene, go through trials a... Read more
666 words, approx. 3 pages
"Because I've Suffered" "Because I have suffered." Those were the words Finny said that shocked Gene. Perhaps it was because he really was mad Gene for knocking him out of the tree. However, that... Read more
592 words, approx. 2 pages
Around 5000 B.C.E. the Greek historian, Herodotus, had proclaimed Egypt " the gift of the Nile" because all the floods that were happening there had turned Egypt into a productive agricultural region ... Read more
1,068 words, approx. 4 pages
In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, a grown man named Gene Forrester reflects on his past experiences at Devon School in New Hampshire. He narrates his high school memories and describes the interes... Read more
1,426 words, approx. 5 pages
The Enemy Inside The saying, "our greatest enemy is ourselves," is shown in A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. The novel takes place during a time of war, but at Devon, an exclusive New England prep ... Read more

Free Book Notes (1)

20,918 words, approx. 70 pages
A Separate Peace Book Notes is a free study guide on A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Browse the summary below:   Author Biography / Context of the Work   One-Page Plot Summary  ... Read more

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