|A Separate Peace|
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
A Separate Peace is John Knowles' first published novel, released in 1959. The bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel) is Knowles' most widely-known work. The title is derived from a quotation in Hemingway's novel, A Farewell to Arms, in which Lt. Henry states, "I had made a separate peace," with his adversaries in World War I. The title also appears in the preface to Chapter VI of Hemingway's In Our Time, in which Nick Adams states: "Senta. You and me we've made a separate peace."
The protagonist returns to his old prep school, Devon (a thinly-veiled portrayal of Knowles' own alma mater, Phillips Exeter Academy), fifteen years after he graduated. He returns to visit two places he regards as "fearful sites": a flight of marble stairs, and a tree by a river. First he examines the stairs and notices that they are made of very hard marble. He then trudges through the mud to the tree. The tree brings back memories of Gene's time as a student at Devon. From this point on in the book, Gene will describe the time span from the summer of 1942 to the winter of 1943. In 1942, he was 16 years old and living at Devon with his best friend and roommate, Phineas (nicknamed Finny). At the time, World War II is taking place, and has a prominent effect on the story.
Gene and Phineas, despite having polar personalities, become fast friends at Devon: Gene's quiet, introverted intellectual personality complements Finny's more extroverted, carefree, athletic demeanor. During the time at Devon, Gene goes through a period of intense friendship with Finny. One of Fin's ideas during Gene's "Sarcastic Summer" of 1942 is to create a "Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session", with Gene and himself as charter members. Finny creates a rite of initiation by having members jump into the Devon River from a large, high tree. He also creates a game called "blitzball" (from the German blitzkrieg).
Their period of intense friendship was then followed by a period of intense animosity during which Gene strives to out-do Finny academically. This animosity culminates (and is ended) when one day as Phineas and Gene are about to jump off the tree, Finny falls out of the tree and shatters his leg because Gene shook the branch they were both standing on (whether intentionally or unintentionally is unclear). Because of his "accident", Phineas learns from the doctor that he will never again be able to compete in sports which are most dear to him. The rest of the story revolves around Gene's attempts to come to grips with who he is, why he did what he did, and with human nature. Gene reveals that he caused Finny's fall. At first Finny does not believe him and afterward feels extremely hurt. In the end, Gene is confronted about the 'accident' by Brinker Hadley who accuses Gene of trying to kill Finny. This confrontation ends with Finny falling down a flight of stairs (the ones Gene would visit 15 years later), and again breaking the leg he had shattered before. Phineas dies during the operation to set the bone, the doctor assumes that Finny died when bone marrow entered the blood stream, because his heart suddenly stopped during the surgery. Gene doesn't cry over Finny, but learns much from how he lived his life, stating that when Finny died, he took his (Gene's) anger with him. In Finny's death, Gene could finally come to terms with himself. The book then ends with the army's parachuters invading Devon. Gene and Brinker are now graduated, Brinkers father is there to see them. He is clearly upset that Gene is going into the navy instead of fighting hard in the war. The book ends on a dark note.