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A Separate Peace

The purpose of this paper is to describe the motivation of the character Gene in acting as he does toward Finny in the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The plan of the paper will be to set the scene for Gene's destructive behavior and then to discuss why he behaves as he does and the consequences to him of that behavior, especially the fact that he learns a significant life lesson by the time the story has ended.

The action of A Separate Peace takes place around Devon, an elite boys' New England boarding prep school during World War II. The characters come from wealthy backgrounds, and Devon is the kind of place that groomed America's future leaders in all fields. The narrator's references to marble, the Dean's Residence, and the authentic Colonial style of architecture (8-9) indicate a setting of comfort and wealth. That is important to Gene's behavior because it shows that his insecurity and envy were nurtured in a comfortable and privileged setting. The insecurity is established early on in the novel, at the fateful tree, when Finny jumps into the water from the high limb and then harasses Gene until he jumps too. Gene is scared, and he blames Finny, although his attitude is that of an insecure adolescent: "What was I doing up here anyway? Why did I let Finny talk me into stupid things like this? Was he getting some kind of hold over me?" (15).

The focus of Gene's insecurity and meanness is, of course, Finny. Finny has an irrepressible personality. He dares to break school rules (such as jumping out of the tree). He is lighthearted in his attitude toward academics and toward the Suicide Society. "You never waste your time," he tells Gene (60), who studies very hard and is a "walking clock" (58). Gene also secretly resents that Finny realizes that Gene wants to be recognized as the school's top student. Academics and sports come naturally to Finny, but Finny's attitude is very casual toward them. It is Gene who takes eve...

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A Separate Peace. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 12:25, March 31, 2020, from