Realizing betrayal can be one of the hardest things for a person to do. People are sensitive and often attempt to hide things from themselves and avoid uncovering the truth about those situations in order to evade the pain that comes with that recognition.
In John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace an inherent flaw of human nature causes Gene to subconsciously jounce the limb of a tree on which Finny stands. This event spirals into a never-ending trauma for Finny, of which he attempts to make the best of both physically and emotionally, continuing to see only the good in all people. Finny’s deliberate blindness to realize Gene’s wrongdoing serves as a shield from the immense pain Finny knows he must experience. Although Finny’s loss of innocence is fomented by the acceptance of the brutal reality of the war, ultimately both Gene and Finny’s loss of innocence comes with the recognition of Gene’s betrayal, personal war, and secret resentment discovered in opposition to Finny’s separate peace and unconditional love. Finny’s desperate attempts to turn his back to the pain of his inability to enlist in the war cause Finny’s creation of a separate peace where the war is a thing of the imagination. He is convinced that if he believes it enough he will not only be able to secure his homeostasis of security and peace within his small secluded world but also succeed to pull Gene into that sheltered world with him. Behavior with the understanding and love Gene most definitely doesn’t deserve. Finny excels in controlling his emotions and using his uncertainty to his advantage.
When Leper comes in and comments that the two figures on the tree had been like an engine with two pistons, Finny finally comes to grasp the extent of Gene’s malevolence and resentment. “Phineas had gotten up unnoticed from his chair. ‘I don’t care,’ he interrupted in an even voice…he shook his head sharply, closing his eyes, and then he turned to regard me with a handsome mask of a face… ‘You get the rest of the facts, Brinker!’” (176-77). Here Phineas realizes that he had known all along but had purposely not wanted to lose Gene’s friendship, no matter how one-sided. Because Finny loved Gene even though he hurt him, his acceptance of Gene’s actions is especially painful. In his acceptance of Gene’s betrayal Finny loses innocence but in turn matures with the liberation of the truth. With the mutual recognition of the differing friendship values inherently present in each boy, conflict is inevitable and innocence is lost as Gene’s betrayal, personal war, and secret resentment meet Finny’s ever-separate peace and unconditional love.
Human nature harbors a monster that it cannot deny, and that is the demon of jealousy. Even though there is competition between even the closest of friends, none are this deeply rooted in evil. Finny loses innocence when he comes to face the reality of the war, but the ultimate loss of innocence in both boys occurs when they realize the other’s role in each of their downfalls.