Another awesome book I got for Christmas was A Separate Peace by John Knowles. This book is set in the World War Two time period. The main character, Gene, is sixteen years old and attends boarding school. The book details their relationship during the summer and the following school year and shows the intense consequences of Gene’s actions.
WARNING: SPOILERS ALERT
I liked this book because even though one of the main themes is love vs. hate, love is not portrayed in the typical sense. There are no female characters because the book is set in a boarding school. The type of love that is shown is merely a brotherly love between two close friends and admiration for another human being who possesses noteworthy talents.
I also like the character development of Gene, even though his unstable relationship with Phineas ultimately causes his friend’s death. One day, he feels a strong rivalry between himself, who is academically strong, and his best friend Phineas, who is athletically gifted. Gene thinks that Phineas feels this sense of competition too, and he makes a sort of game out of it, with each one trying to outdo the other. Gene is convinced that Phineas is jealous of his academia. I think this is actually caused by Gene’s jealousy of Phineas’ athleticism, and he assumes that Phineas must feel the same way about him. All of Gene’s actions towards Phineas are guided by this principle: that there is a fierce competition between them.
For a while, it seems as if Gene is right about Phineas. Whether it is on purpose or just in his nature, he often treats Gene in a controlling way, making all the decisions for the pair of them and expecting Gene to adjust in whatever way he has to to make Phineas’ plans work. Gene often describes him as someone who doesn’t feel consequences, who gets away with everything, who is spontaneous and can do whatever he wants. So this gives us the idea that Phineas is not malicious, merely careless.
But one day, Phineas shows that he truly does want Gene to succeed and he admires him for being so good at school. Gene is shocked because this turns all of his notions about his roommate upside down. This made me think that Gene is extremely insecure. Because the story is told from his point of view, we see all the justifications and evidence that Phineas is competing with Gene. But as soon as that is proven to be false, it becomes clear that Gene had been extremely jealous of Phineas, and he flipped it around in his head to make it seem like a justified feeling. Now, we see that Phineas actually feels no resentment at all towards Gene, and this is even more aggravating to him. Gene envies everything about Phineas from his looks to his demeanor to his abilities. He often describes him as unique and expresses how good his nature is, but it is not until later that we see how resentful Gene is of these qualities.
Even after the tragedy happens, Phineas retains his good naturedness and never blames Gene. He refuses to hear Gene’s confessions and it is unclear whether he himself believes them or not, but he recognizes that Gene is very confused. Most of Gene’s hostile envy disappears after he realizes Phineas is now on the same level as he is–except Gene is still good at school, and Phineas never was. Now, after it is too late, he sees that sports were Phineas’ whole life and the main thing he was ever good at.
Throughout the course of the book, Gene wishes he could be more like Phineas. He loves him so much that he can’t help but feel hatred at the same time. This is an interesting mix of emotions, because this changes Gene’s love into more of a blind devotion, more like animal love than human love. And this changes his hatred into resentment and jealousy, because he admires Phineas so much that he wants to have everything his best friend has. Gene has no idea how large the consequences of one careless action will be, and ultimately he is the reason for Phineas’ death even though he is not directly responsible. He did not know how to express his love and he let his envy get in the way, and this suffocated Phineas’ personality. Gene seems to enjoy their relationship much more after Phineas becomes dependent on him, and he feels a deep responsibility to keep Phineas from thinking too much about the loss of everything he loves. This shows that Gene really did care for his friend, but he did not know how to express it.
I like this book because of the intense examination of a relationship gone wrong. Every person goes through internal wars, but most do not end in someone else’s death. This book has great significance behind the relationships of the main characters, but it also a great story even if you don’t read into the meaning at all.
Have you read this book? What did you think of the characters?