A Separate Peace is a novel that is a great example of life through WWII. A separate peace follows two main characters: Gene and Finny. Gene possesses a humble yet intellectual character while Finny carries himself with much confidence. The two of them become good friends starting in the summer of 1942. Gene soon becomes jealous of Finny’s characteristics and is jealous of all that he does. Finny is more of a “leader” while Gene is the silent “follower.”
Their friendship takes a turn when an activity that they did regularly for fun, jumping from a tree into the accompanying river, becomes a disaster. While Finny is at the end of the branch ready to jump into the river, Gene shakes the branch causing Finny to fall and snap his leg, ending his athletic career. Throughout the novel, it is unclear whether this act was purposeful or a mere accident, until Gene confesses to Finny that it was on purpose when visiting Finny on his way home. Finny is oblivious and decided not to belive this.
Gene ends up continuing on with school, where he becomes assistant manager of the crew team but eventually quits to do a fight with manager and quits. Many boys at Devon School are waiting on the day that they can enlist themselves in the war. Brinker Hadley, an attendant at Devon school, and Gene suggest enlisting together. They cancel these plans once they realize Finny has returned to school. Finny suggests Gene take over his sports roles but Gene says sports aren’t important at the moment because of the upcoming war, which Finny declares is just a “conspiracy.” (Knowles, Ch. 8)
Gene eventually agrees to take over Finny’s athletic positions after finding out that Finny had planned to participate in the 1944 olympics. As enlistment time approaches, many boys are awestruck when the news spread that Leper Lepellier was first to enlist. Leper sends Gene a telegram saying that he needs help. Gene travels to Vermont, Leper’s home, and realizes that Leper has gone somewhat insane. Leper tells Gene that he the details about what happened between Gene and Finny that summer. (Knowles, ch. 10)
Brinker creates an after school club which questions the two boys about the summer incident out of his own suspicion. They both conclude that they can not remember full details about the incident when asked. Leper than comes into the room to testify against Gener. Finny rushes out of the room, falls down the stairs, and breaks his leg once again. (Knowles, ch. 12)
Gene goes to visit Finny at the hospital but is not accepted. Gener falls asleep on a nearby football field and goes back the next day to apologize and take full responsibility for his actions and the two boys makeup. Later, when the doctor is performing an operation on Finny’s leg to repair it, bone marrow escaped and made its way into Finny’s heart, killing him. Once Gene hears the news, he believes that he will always be a part of Finny. Once the other boys at Devon School graduate, they continue their lives in the military. (Knowles, ch. 12)
This novel also shows us some of the effects that the war had on school aged boys during the pre-enlistment period. The biggest effect I saw that the war had on a character was Leper. A once timid, shy, underwhelming boy suddenly decided that he would enlist in the war. Leper’s character soon transforms into more of a hard-hearted type. He has come out of his shell slightly, and is much more present than before.
Finny also expressed a strange idea that the war was just a conspiracy. We later find out that he was only saying this out of anger of not being a able to enlist. We are led to believe that Finny truely thinks the war is a hoax until he comes out as saying: ‘Why do you think I kept saying there wasn’t any war all winter? I was going to keep saying it until two seconds after I got a letter from Ottawa or Chungking or some place saying ‘Yes, you can enlist with us’ ‘(190).
It is made obvious that Brinker is afraid of the war. Brinker constantly slanders the war because of his fear of fighting. He develops a hatred towards his father and his idea of the war. (Knowles, p. 201). Brinker believes that he should have no obligation to participate in the war since his father’s generation was the main cause of the war.