A Separate Peace

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A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace cover.jpg
AuthorJohn Knowles
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNaturalism
PublisherSecker & Warburg
Publication date
1959
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Pages204
ISBN978-0-7432-5397-0
 
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A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace cover.jpg
AuthorJohn Knowles
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreNaturalism
PublisherSecker & Warburg
Publication date
1959
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Pages204
ISBN978-0-7432-5397-0

A Separate Peace (1959) is a novel by John Knowles. Based on his earlier short story, "Phineas," it was Knowles' first published novel and became his best-known work.

Plot summary[edit]

Gene Forrester, the protagonist, returns to his old prep school, Devon (a thinly-veiled portrayal of Knowles' own alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy), fifteen years after he graduated to visit two places he regards as "fearful sites": a flight of marble stairs and a tree by the river. First, he examines the stairs and notices that they are made of very hard marble. He then trudges through the mud to the tree. The tree brings back memories of Gene's time as a student at Devon. From this point, the plot follows Gene's description of the time span from the summer of 1942 to the summer of 1943. In 1942, he was 16 years old and living at Devon with his best friend and roommate, Phineas (nicknamed Finny). At the time, World War II is taking place, and has a prominent effect on the story.

Gene and Finny, despite being polar opposites in personality, become fast friends at Devon: Gene's quiet, introverted intellectual personality complements Finny's more extroverted, carefree, athletic demeanor. During the time at Devon, Gene goes through a period of intense friendship with Finny. One of Finny's ideas during Gene's "Gypsy Summer of 1942" is to create a "Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session," with Gene and himself as charter members. Finny creates a rite of initiation by having members jump into the Devon River from a large, high tree. He also creates a game called "blitzball" (from the German blitzkrieg) in which there is no winner and Finny would make rules up as they played.

Following their period of intense friendship was a period of intense one-sided rivalry during which Gene strives to out-do Finny academically, since he believes Finny is trying to out-do him. This rivalry begins with Gene's jealousy towards Finny because Finny gets away with everything and can talk his way out of getting in trouble. This rivalry climaxes (and is ended) when, as Finny and Gene are about to jump off the tree, Gene jounces the branch they were both standing on, causing Finny to fall and shatter his leg. Because of his "accident", Finny learns that he will never again be able to compete in sports, which are most dear to him. This leads to Gene also starting to think like Finny to try and be a better person and to try and solve some of his envy towards him. The remainder of the story revolves around Gene's attempts to come to grips with who he is, why he shook the branch, and how he will continue to go forward. Gene feels so guilty that he goes to Finny's house and tells Finny that he caused Finny's fall. At first Finny does not believe him and afterward feels extremely hurt.

World War II soon occupies the schoolboys' time, with student Brinker Hadley rallying the boys to help the war effort and Gene's quiet friend Leper Lepellier joining the Ski Troops and becoming severely traumatized by what he sees.

During a meeting of the Golden Fleece Debating Society, Brinker sets up a show trial and, based upon his shaking of the branch, accuses Gene of trying to kill Finny. Faced with the evidence, Finny leaves shamefully before Gene's deed is confirmed. On his way out, Finny falls down a flight of stairs (the same ones Gene visits at the beginning of the novel), and again breaks the leg he had shattered before. Finny at first dismisses any of Gene's attempts to apologize, but he soon realizes that the "accident" was impulsive and not anger-based. The two forgive each other.

The next day, Finny dies during the operation to set the bone. The doctor summarizes that Finny died when bone marrow entered the blood stream, and stopped his heart during the surgery. Gene does not cry over Finny, but learns much from how he lived his life, stating that when Finny died, he took his (Gene's) anger with him. In Finny's death, Gene could finally come to terms with himself.

Characters[edit]

Adaptations[edit]

In 1972, the novel was adapted into a film of the same name, starring Parker Stevenson as Gene and John Heyl as Finny, with a screenplay by Fred Segal and John Knowles.[1] In 2004, it was adapted into a made-for-TV movie by Showtime.[2]

Awards and honors[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]