In A Separate Peace, John Knowles enlightens readers on human existence by displaying how denial allows a person to stray from reality. Numerous cases of denial overwhelm and test characters' assurances of their own presence. Characters such as Gene Forrester and Phineas (Finny) fail to acknowledge denial, so that their naivetÃÂ© prohibits them from identifying the truth. Eventually, fate causes each to face his own guilt, embarrassment, and disbelief.
As the novel progresses Gene Forrester, the main character, continuously rejects the idea of being a "savage underneath". Gene has a somewhat dark streak in his nature, which triggers him to lash out at innocent people. He intentionally jounces the limb of a tree while Finny, his "best" friend, is standing at the edge; causing Finny to plummet and break his leg. This vicious act permanently damages Finny, yet Gene refuses the contemplation of being malicious.
You always were a savage underneath.
I always knew that only I never
admitted it. But in the last few weeks...I admitted a hell of a lot to myself...
It's you we happen to be talking about now. Like a savage underneath...
like that time you knocked Finny out of the tree...Like that time you
crippled him for life. pg. 137
Elwin "Leper" Lepellier, another main character, attempts to inform Gene of his inner malevolence, however, he never is able to come to terms with this, not even fifteen years later.
A controversy between mind and compassion prevents Gene from confessing his hatred, guilt, and envy towards Phineas. His mind could not comprehend how his heart could ruin such an important, yet remarkable companionship.
It wasn't my neck, but my understanding which was menaced. [Finny] had
Never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was
and never could...