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Good Versus Evil:
Wars in A Separate Peace
John Knowles novel, A Separate Peace, portrays wars on three distinct levels.
These levels could be described as outer, inner, and world. There is a very good
definition of these wars at the closing of the novel which shows us the levels:
"I could never agree with either of them. It would have been comfortable, but I
could not believe it. Because it seemed clear that wars were not made by generations
and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in
the human heart." (page 193)
This passage shows that wars go on around the world, all the time people are battling a
never-ending fight. Not necessarily battles like World War II or even a common street
fight or family feud, but battles with mind and emotion that everyone must deal with.
One such battle is that in which Gene deals with throughout the book, the battles
with Finny. We learn as the story begins that Gene and Finny are best friends. They go
almost everywhere together and they even share a room at their school. We enter the
story at what is called a "summer session" which could be described as today\'s equivalent
of summer school. But, as the story unfolds, we are forced to ask ourselves, are they
friends as the appear to be at the start of the novel or are they mortal enemies as Gene
begins to hint with this quote at the point Gene thinks Finny is finally going to "get away"
with something he did. "This time he wasn\'t going to get away with it. I could feel
myself becoming unexpectedly excited at that."(page 20) This shows us that even though
they are friends, Gene feels that Finny is too perfect and he needs to see a sign that he is
human, that he is not the super-popular "benevolent" kid everyone else thinks he is. "He
had gotten away with everything. I felt a sudden stab of disappointment."(page 21)
Finny, like usual had finally gotten himself out of a seemingly "sure catch."
Later on in the novel, Gene\'s inner torment finally gets the best of him.
"Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent
and I jounced the limb. Finny, his balance gone, swung his head around to look at me
for and instant with extreme interest, and then he tumbled sideways, broke through the
little branches below and hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud. It was the first
clumsy physical action I had ever seen him make. With unthinking sureness I moved out
on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of my fear gone."(page 52)
It is this out of character action by Gene which starts the second type of war in the novel,
Gene\'s "inner war." At this point, all of Gene\'s feelings of hatred and despise for Finny
are all manifested in that single action. At the point when Gene says, "I ... jumped into
the river, every trace of my fear gone," it shows us that when Finny fell to the ground
and did something that wouldn\'t make him popular with the other kids, most of Gene\'s
emotions calmed down and there was a great weight lifted from him. Although at the
moment everything seemed returning to a norm, when it was discovered that Finny\'s leg
had been broken, Gene began his inner battles with guilt. The pressure of knowing he
did something so terribly wrong was beyond his control as a young man. If the other
student\'s or teachers found out what he had done, they would do more than punish him.
They would make him an outcast. Not only did he do this horrendous thing on purpose,
but he also would have waited to tell them long after the point it was decided that Finny
had just had an accident. Although later in the novel, Elwin "Leper" Lepellier accuses
Gene of "jouncing the limb,"(page 137) Gene never tells the truth, even to Finny himself.
Finny and the others "interrogate" Gene if he saw what happened that terrible day, but
Gene just scoffs and forgets they asked (page162). The inner torment that continues
when Gene finds out he destroyed Finny\'s dream of fighting in the war(page 182), the
pain rises inside of him and the guilt begins to win his war. When Gene and Finny
discuss the accident after Finny breaks his leg the second time,
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Phillips Exeter Academy, A Separate Peace, Literature, British films, Fiction, John Knowles, Finny, Gene
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