John Knowles’ modern novel, “A Separate Peace,” tells the adventures two coming-of-age New England boys share during the social setting of the Second World War, where becoming drafted is the teen rite of passage. Though the fighting seemed and felt like a world away, tragedy struck when reserved, intellectual Gene ultimately causes the death of his daredevil, extraverted best friend, Phineas.
In analysis of Knowles’ novel, finding the context of love and its facets adds a new dimension into the reading of this summer tragedy.
Gene and Phineas have a heart-to-heart moment as they lay on a beach recounting the day they spent snuck-out of the grammar school. Phineas monologues how coming to the shore couldn’t be done “with just anybody” or by one’s self. He monologues how coming to the shore is spent with “your best pal”, which he had to clarify was Gene. And Gene nearly confessed the same thing, if it wasn’t for the maxim,” Exposing a sincere emotion nakedly like that at the Devon School was the next thing to suicide”.
The most explicit exhibition of Gene’s rationalized, internal feelings towards his best friend is when he contextualizes danger in the war and in his life. He comes to the conclusion that he was “used to finding something deadly in things that attracted” him, much like the war, which bewitched nearly any other boy at Devon.
He comes to the conclusion that within anything he loved there was something deadly. He comes to the conclusion there is something deadly in “Finny,” who he saw as the other half of himself, who gave him a sense of being fulfilled and undermined.
Gene found what was deadly in Finny by the fault of his own jealousy and by the cruelty of the other boys interloping between the two. Out of suppressed jealousy, Gene had been the cause of a fall that made Finny break his leg. This injury both drifted the two apart and brought them together. Only a group of inquiring boys coerced the truth out of Gene, resulting in an upset Phineas injuring himself terminally after falling once more- his bone marrow having gone into his bloodstream.
When it came to lower Phineas into the ground, Gene could not find himself to cry, not then nor ever, because he felt “this was [his] own funeral,” and one does not “cry in that case.” Things were never quite still when it came to the intellectual and the athlete, neither movement nor emotion. With the death of Finny, Gene found a separate peace, a peace separate from the other half of him.
Though it may not seem like the bond between the two was necessarily romantic, it is important to keep in mind how love is multifaceted, a gem with many cuts. There’s love in the bond of friendship, and love in selflessness.
The two boys shared highs and lows, both separately and together, regarding each other as equals, yet as if the other was a right-hand man. All the while they made the best of being with each other. Tried to make the best of being with each other. If tragedy follows the rise and fall of the protagonist, Gene found his deadly tragedy in loving Phineas.