Last Updated 27 Jan 2021

A Separate Peace Themes

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A Separate Peace by John Knowles concerns itself about a young adult named Gene who decides to visit his old school Devon years after the war and recollects his memories of his friend, Phonies. Most of the story is a flashback about the hardships Gene and Phonies had to face growing up in high school during a war. During this flashback, Gene grows through the phase where he must let go of his childhood and mature to adulthood. Throughout the book, Phonies symbolizes childhood and innocence, revealing the main theme of the book: innocence versus maturity.

Gene's Journey through his years at Devon shows how he matures and gains a bigger understanding of the world around him. At the beginning of the book, both Gene and Phonies were childish at the beginning of the book. For example, Phonies would wear pink clothing and a school tie as a belt to a headmaster's gathering. "In his haste that morning Finny had not unexpected used a tie for a belt. But this morning the tie at hand had been the Devon School tie" (20). This shows a level of disrespect of self-image and school-image that usually rash, young children have.

Phonies even believes that the war is Just a scam made up by adults to get a profit. There's the bad, there's the good; Just pure black and white. He was even able to rationalize this illogical belief to Gene, and Gene easily gives in. Just like how a child sticks to her favorite blanket or comforting teddy bear to protect her from the nasty in life, Phonies is Gene's way of clinging on to a more immature view to explain life simply. As Gene begins to mature through his years at Devon, he loses Phonies for a while as Phonies recovers from his leg injury.

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This opens the door to Gene as he sees a new view point on life. He has a sense of guilt that he was the one who trounced Phonies out of the tree, but cannot explain his actions. This new sense of guilt make question if he is truly evil or still innocent. It raises the question that there may be something more than Just cruelly evil or purely good that Phonies seemed to believe earlier. However, Phonies, symbolizing Gene's childhood, tries to pull Gene back to a world of innocence with winter carnivals and games - games where there are no losers and everyone wins.

Affected by Phonies' tempting simple ideals, Gene finds himself hard to let go of the innocent outlook on life. Still, this prodding question further develops when Gene meets Leper after the effects of the war. "The army has the perfect word for everything, did you ever think of that? ... And the perfect word for me... Psycho. I guess I am. I must be. Am I though, or is the army? Because they turned everything inside out" (141 , 149). This quote summarizes the scene when Gene learns about harsh cruelties of war, and begins to realize that the world is bitterer than he had originally thought.

Human beings can be evil. This completely transforms his original innocent view on the world. At the end of the novel, when Gene is of age to be recruited into the war, Gene has learned much about the harsh truth of reality. He begins to move into an acceptance state. When Phonies realizes that it was Gene who had originally trounced the branch, Gene is able to explain that there are certain evils, certain impulses that earlier in the novel. "No, I don't know how to show you, how can I show you, Finny? Tell me how to show you.

It was Just some ignorance inside me, some crazy thing inside me, something blind, that's all it was" (191). Gene accepts that humans are neither fully good nor evil, but normal beings with natural impulses. Knowles shows throughout the book that as one ages and matures, one must lose that innocent childish mentality. Gene slowly pulls apart from Phonies' ideals and moves onto a more complex understanding of human behavior. However, as Gene reaches young adulthood, Knowles cleverly has Phonies pass away, as only to show that in order for Gene to fully mature and reach adulthood, the innocent childhood must completely disappear. Did not cry then or ever about Finny.... ' could not escape a felling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case" (186) The quote even shows that Gene feels that Phonies was part of himself. This is referring to the naive childhood part of Gene. Knowles consistently expresses the theme of innocence versus maturity. He tells us that in order to achieve maturity and achieve the fuller, complex view on life, one has to lose the innocent outlook that usually the young has. Gene moved from a young naive child to a developed young adult.

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