A Separate Peace
by John Knowles
Published by Scribner
4 Out of 5 Stars
I recently re-read this book for the AP class that I'm teaching and I was reminded of what a deceptively simple book this appears to be on the surface. Set in Devon (an all boys prep school) during WWII, A Separate Peace explores how the encroaching reality of war affects the psychological and social development of all the boys attending the school. The poignant irony of providing these young men with a classics based education at a prestigious school just to be sent into war to kill and be killed effectively shows how, before they even make it to the battlefield, the war cripples them--for one physically, for the others psychologically. The book focuses on the relationship between Finny, the popular and perfect athlete, and Gene, the intelligent and dangerously introspective one. Gene's all-consuming envy toward Finny causes him to shake the tree limb both are standing on; Finny falls to the ground and breaks his leg. The event serves as a metaphor for how Gene's betrayal of the friendship has broken Finny.
Effective use is made of Finny as a Christ figure and we witness as Gene grows psychologically in response to the realization that he has destroyed not just Finny's athletic career, but also Finny's essence. Gene comes to understand that the real enemy is the enemy within and, through Finny, Gene finds a form of salvation from his dark, neurotic tendencies.
Knowles does so much with setting and imagery in the book that I pick up on something new every time I read it. Wonderful novel.