Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

If you've been following my blog, you know that I really like coming of age stories. One of my favorite ones is A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I first read this novel the summer before ninth grade (from the dreaded summer reading list!) and liked it but was a little confused, nay overwhelmed, by the tragic events within. The story concerns the friendship between two prep school boys, Gene and Phineas, in the early 1940s, before the U.S. went to war. The grown-up Gene is the narrator of the novel, so the reader becomes familiar with this character's adolescent, as well as adult, personality. We are less acquainted with Phineas' nature, but we do know he is an optimist, a happy upbeat boy whom everyone likes. He's a great foil to Gene's darker, brooding personality. Gene is jealous of Phineas' charisma, and in the central bone-chilling scene, damages his friend forever. My fourteen year old self wondered why he would do such a thing. At forty-one years old, I still ponder this question but think the answer has something to do with adolescent impulse control. Also, when I reread this novel as an adult, I understood the meaning of the title. The adult Gene is telling his story in order to make peace with his actions of long ago. He's forging a peace separate from Phineas, WWII, boarding school politics--all of his history. Gene is making peace with himself.

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