Peace man longs for.“Phineas just walked serenely on,
Peace only comes at the price of great struggle and sacrifice for most people.
In essence, it only comes when you have defeated the enemy, or the enemy has defeated you. John Knowles was able to capture the subtle goal and essence of his novel by titling it A Separate Peace. A Separate Peace is a story about Gene Forrester, the protagonist of the story, and his constant struggle with the underlying emotional conflicts present in him. He has to fight a war within his own mind that every man has to fight for himself.
His battles eventually uproot underlying emotions—emotions of jealousy, envy, and subdued hatred—that he feels for people that he had undying loyalty for, and an equally strong trust. These emotions then set off a series of events that change his life forever, and he has to fight more for peace amidst a world of chaos. He experiences new feelings— fear, frustration, pity, and undeniable guilt.
From his experiences in his last year of school at Devon, he emerges with greater strength, greater understanding, maturity, and he finds the separate peace that every man longs for.“Phineas just walked serenely on, or rather flowed on, rolling forward in his white sneakers with such unthinking unity of movement that “walk” didn’t describe it. When the novel begins, John Knowles leaves a subtle detail of Phineas’ character through his vivid descriptions of his movements. Phineas always represented an uninterrupted flow of strength and energy, like a river with nothing capable of changing its current speed. He represented tranquility in chaos, the calm before the storm. Not even rules were able to stop Finny’s consistent serenity. Even though Phineas was very fond of breaking the rules, he did it in a way that not even the Masters were able to resist siding with him.
Throughout the book, no major emotional reactions are displayed by Phineas. In the novel, he did not reveal any change of emotions until the confession after the mock trial at the end of the book. His attitude was a polar opposite of Gene. Gene was in a constant conflict with himself. Gene acted with his emotions—anger, frustration, envy, jealousy, and guilt—while Phineas remained in constant control of himself. It is this unending flow that not only hints at his peace, but also proves he is the human manifestation of it.
“Don’t be a sap…there isn’t any war.
” After his return to Devon, Finny thinks up a conspiracy theory that denounces that there was a war going on. With this, John Knowles blatantly reveals his metaphor of a separate peace, because it is only Phineas who announces this theory. Phineas again represents peace. While war hysteria is constantly enveloping his peers, he denies any idea of a war going on, and tries to resurrect the freedom of worries experienced in the eSummer Session. Phineas begins a campaign of events to distract his classmates from the events going on outside of the school, bringing them into his world of unending peace. No fighting ever came out of Finny, he was not afraid of any enemy because in his eyes there were none.
“My fury was gone, I felt it gone, dried up at the source, withered and lifeless. Phineas had absorbed it and taken it with him, and I was rid of it forever.” At the end of the novel, Gene is rid of all his angst and negative emotions. With Phineas’ death, all traces of guilt had left his mind, body and soul. He had inherited the calm that Phineas had always enjoyed. After that point, he no longer felt any feelings of hatred, jealousy, envy, etc.
Those emotions died along with Phineas. In the end of the novel, Gene graduates from the school with greater understanding and maturity. All of his internal conflicts had been vanquished. He had fought with his heart, and was finally able to taste the fruits of victory. He did not get any gold, or anything of monetary value, but instead received the spirit of the best friend that he always envied. He now embodied all the things that Finny had represented, all the things that Gene originally envied.
“I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because 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.” I think that Gene gained a maturity that he never had during his education at Devon with Finny’s death. His brain had cleared from its envious cloudiness and was finally at rest. There were no more battles to be fought, no more enemies to be killed. His guilt had been erased, and all doubts of himself and his actions defeated. Phineas’ greatest gift to Gene was given posthumously.
It was not all the fun times that they experienced, but the uninterrupted peace within oneself that he had always enjoyed.