A Separate Peace

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In the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, there is a contrast of two wars raging on. While World War II tumbled on outside of Devon School, one unfolded within Gene himself. Gene could not tolerate Phineas's ideal character and believed it was a threat he must rid himself of. A series of changes involving acceptances and rejections takes place before Gene realized that his war had only one side from the beginning and Phineas could never be the enemy.

Phineas is portrayed as a friendly, carefree boy who managed get away with any sort of trouble. A spontaneous person, he made decisions based on his emotions, like when he chose to head toward the beach. Beside studying, everything came to him easily and naturally. This confidence in himself was present when he played sports and broke the swimming record without preparations. However, he never thought of himself as the perfect character and assumed simply that everyone else was like him.

Most importantly, Phineas didn't believe there was any evil in the world. He trusted everyone completely and couldn't hate anyone. It was with this altitude that he felt guilty for suspecting that Gene had pushed him out of the tree.

Gene was a direct contrast to Phineas's character. Unlike Finny the natural, Gene had to work hard to obtain something. He was more reserved and kept his true feelings under sarcasm. While Finny was able to openly express his liking to him, Gene could not easily communicate his emotions directly. He was more comfortable in following regulations, showing great reluctance in going against them. When Phineas suggested jumping off the tree, Gene wasn't too willing simply because it wasn't part of normal routine. In short, Gene was of typical human nature and couldn't accept how Phineas had everything come naturally to him. From his jealousy of Phineas's carefree attitude toward life, Gene saw a war between them when there was none. His blind envy caused "the savage underneath" to emerge. It was this savage-like nature that controlled him when he jounced the tree for Finny's fall. However, Gene's war did not end with Phineas's crippling. Instead it proceeded emotionally, for Phineas's innocent faith prevented him from believing that Gene had betrayed him.

It was not until Brinker brought the past to trial and Leper testified his witness that Phineas was forced to face the truth of Gene's role in his fall. His confident faith in a world of happiness was destroyed. However, he refused to give up at the Infirmary as he desperately grasped for reason to the accident. "'It was just some kind of blind impulse you had in the tree there, you didn't know what you were doing. Was that it?'" When Gene nodded in agreement "it wasn't some kind of hate you've felt all along", Phineas believed in him and was satisfied.

As Gene prepared for the physical World War II outside, he showed no excitement, for "my war ended before I ever put on an uniform...I killed my enemy there." Admitting he created a non-existing war from "something ignorant in the human heart," Gene found a peace separate from the one to be found in the physical war outside. While his classmates enthusiastically march off to battle, Gene can only follow as far as Phineas would have allowed himself to go.