Seperate Peace Essay

Essay about Gene's Coming of Age in A Separate Peace

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Gene's Coming of Age in A Separate Peace

The novel, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, is the coming of age story of Gene Forrester. This novel is a flashback to the year 1943, when Gene is attending Devon School during his senior year and the summer before it. "Gene's youth and inexperience make him ill-equipped to deal with situations that require maturity" (Overview: A Separate Peace 2). However, Gene is a follower of Finny and therefore gains experiences that provoke his development into adulthood. Some of these experiences include: breaking Finny's leg, training for the 1944 Olympics, and killing Finny. Through these three experiences Gene is forced to grow out of his childish-self and become a man.…show more content…

Gene becomes more disciplined and athletically inclined. He is undertaking circumstances that he knows will never come true, the 1944 Olympics, yet making the best of them to please his best friend. Gene is learning to do things although he does not want to do and that have no purpose. This is a difficult task for an immature child; however, through Gene's ability to train for the inexistent Olympics, shows that he is growing up. He looks at his training as if he were preparing for the war. Accepting that he must go to war is also another sign of maturity brought on by the training for the Olympics with Finny. Through his preparation for the Olympics, Gene's coming of age becomes more and more evident.

Finny's death causes the greatest maturity growth in Gene's character. After Finny dies, he realized how his own hatred caused the death of his best friend. "He came to understand Finny's innocence and purity which causes Gene to see flaws within himself and forces him to grow up" (Alton 1). Being able to admit your own flaws is critical in maturing. When Gene finally sees his impact of immature behavior, he realizes how much he needs to mature. Even though Finny is physically gone, his spirit remains with Gene and essentially makes him the adult that he grows up to be. Finny's death is a crucial part of Gene's coming of age. When Finny dies, Gene's immature behaviors also die. Because Gene's hatred was gone, he entered war as a man.

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This book opens with Gene Forrester’s return to Devon school after World War II to revisit the place where he believes he fought his war. He remembers his last year at Devon, when he became friends with his roommate, Finny.

While Gene is thoughtful and unsure of himself, Finny is filled with confidence. This confidence is based on a physical prowess which makes him the best athlete in the school. While Gene is capable of earning the top grades in his class, Finny is the undisputed class leader. Finny’s constant invention of pranks and games and his insistence on fun and good fellowship remind the boys, who have many kinds of trouble on their minds, that the joy of living should be valued above all things.

Gene comes to feel that there is a secret rivalry between him and Finny, he even suspects that Finny’s midnight larks are part of a plot to prevent him from getting the best grades. When he realizes that he is mistaken and that he has projected his own insecurity onto Finny, he is unable to accept this fact. Suddenly presented with a chance to hurt Finny, he causes an “accident” which results in a crippling compound fracture for Finney.

Most of the novel deals with Gene’s attempts to come to terms with his act. Finny does not suspect Gene, so Gene must deal with himself in moral isolation. Though Gene tries to confess, Finny will not listen to him. Only when their classmates hold a mock trial, do Finny and Gene face what Gene has done. Perhaps as a result of the trial, Finny rebreaks his leg and dies in the resulting operation. Before the operation, in a secret visit to Finny’s hospital room, Gene learns how much he has hurt Finny and how truly innocent Finny has always been.

Though often discussed as a novel for young people, A SEPARATE PEACE is rich enough to interest adult readers. Gene’s discovery that the real enemy is not across the ocean but in his own soul is convincing and moving.


Bell, Hallman B. A Separate Peace. Boston: Twayne, 1990. A collection of critical essays that give an excellent overall view of Knowles’s novel. Includes a useful bibliography.

Flum, Hanoch, and Harriet Porton. “Relational Processes and Identity Formation in Adolescence: The Example of A Separate Peace.” Genetic, Social, and General Monographs 121 (November, 1995): 369-390. The authors view the process of identity formation through the lens of the story of an adolescent boy’s experiences during World War II at a boarding school in New Hampshire. Using the events of the book as examples of the necessary connections that are essential to the process of development, the authors explore male adolescent growth.

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