Separate Peace Climax Essay

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Maturity in A Separate Peace

 In A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, the focus spotlight is quickly
turned upon Gene Forrester and his maturity through the novel. He expresses
his ideas about the many subjects through the book through his position as
the novel's narrator. Also, as the book progresses, so does Gene's maturity.
    The first chapter of A Separate Peace establishes the character Gene
Forrester, who in actuality is a portrayal of John Knowles himself, according
to a recent interview. In this establishment of the main character, Gene sets
his place as a grown up and fully matured man, looking back on an incident
when he was only sixteen years old. He vividly describes Devon High School as
he currently saw, and as he remembered from the days of his past. The
description provided in this chapter proves to the reader that in the events
following this soliloquy, a young character will emerge, and will grow into
the man they just read about.
    In Chapter Two and Three, Gene develops a close bond with his roommate
Finny. However, Gene, develops a sheer envy for Finny, and acknowledges it as
the truth. He is extremely envious of the methods in which Finny uses to
escape his unconventional actions and his popularity. He doctors himself in
self-assurance, by repeatedly telling himself over and over again that having
a best friend like Finny is a compliment and should be looked at as an
achievement. However, this excuse is transparent of Gene's maturity at this
point, portraying a very young, foolish, and selfish young man. It later
leads to inner conflict within Gene. During this chapter, Finny and Gene
brainstorm and create the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. A rule
Finny has created, requires the boys to jump out of the tree into the river,
a requirement Gene faces with great resentment. However, Gene depicts in this
chapter how he feels about the Super Suicide Society and the dangerous
requirement that Finny has sent forth. In Chapter Three, Gene almost falls
out of the tree, but is quickly grabbed by Finny. In this action alone, Gene
is depicted as a rather selfish boy from his aspect that it was Finny's fault
he almost died in the first place. But his great admiration for Finny keeps
him from simply refusing the dangerous jump and speaking down towards Finny.
Meanwhile, to the reader, looking through the eyes of Gene, make them realize
that Gene is rather a simply confused young man, who doesn't know the real
value of friendship, and can't refuse a feeling of envy towards his so called
"best friend."
    The book winds on, and jealousy take Gene over. In Chapter Five, Gene
bounces the limb of the tree Finny is about to leap out of. Finny then falls,
and shatters his leg, vanishing any thought of participating in the 1944
Olympic games. Gene perhaps, in this chapter, grows a few inches taller in
his climb towards maturity. Gene's conscious takes a mental beating after
he's committed his awful deed. Perhaps his mind beats him up so much, he's
forced to grow up. The reader can sense vibes in Gene that he is sincerely
sorry for his action showing his respect in Finny grow even stronger, by
training in place of Finny for the 1944 Olympics. A possible reason for
Gene's sudden spurt of maturity is the tremendous guilt that is brought
forth, when Finny rejects the idea that his best friend shook the limb of the
tree that Finny fell off of.
    The book continues to journey to the end, where we see that Gene's
maturity has come to it's peak, after feeling the pressure of his friends,
who try to target him for Finny's crippling injury. He also faces the truth
behind Finny's injury, and confesses to Finny the true reason behind his
action. It is clear to the readers that Gene's mind has forced him to grow
up; it has forced him to realize his boyish selfishness and stupidity behind
some of his actions. In the last two chapters, Gene depicts to the reader the
thought process in which his mind goes through. Especially in Chapter Twelve,
where the book draws to the climax of Gene finding meaning to the environment
surrounding him.
    A great deal of growing and heartfelt thoughts was brought forth by
having Gene as the narrator. The reader was allowed to see inside the mind of
another human, and see the thought process that went through the young man's
head. The realization that the mind controls the mental growth is very strong
throughout the whole book, considering the very immature outlook Gene took
upon Finny and the events involving Finny, which evolve into carefully
thought out remorse that grows into much needed maturity.

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Gene Forrester, the narrator, is also the protagonist of the novel. Idolizing Finny and striving to be like him, Gene becomes extremely jealous of his friend's abilities and spontaneous ways. His jealousy makes him cause Finny to fall from a tree; in turn, Finny becomes a cripple, destroying his bright and promising future. When Finny learns that Gene, his supposed best friend, has caused his accident, he is shocked and hurt. Feeling that his trust and faith have been violated, he falls down the stairs and breaks his leg again. In turn, Gene is more ravaged with guilt than ever.


Gene's antagonist is really himself. Although he pretends to be his friend, he has a deep jealousy for Finny, his roommate. Since Finny is admired by the teachers and the students for his athletic ability and his carefree, spontaneous ways, Gene longs to be like him and tries to imitate him. When he is unsuccessful, he takes his failure out on Finny, causing him to fall from the tree and become a cripple. Then Gene must wrestle with his guilt.


The climax of the novel is reached during the student trial scene toward the end of the novel. Several times in the book, Gene has tried to admit his guilt to Finny, but Finny will not believe him, for he wants to have total faith in his best friend. At the trial, Finny is forced to face the fact that Gene has caused his accident. He is so upset by the realization that he rushes from the room, falls down the stairs, and re-breaks his leg. Now Gene must deal honestly with the accident, for everyone suspects the truth.


The story is a tragic comedy. Although Finny dies, Gene does mature. Driven by guilt, Gene realizes that he is his own enemy and accepts that a person cannot measure oneself by the abilities of another person. He accepts that he can only be himself and act accordingly. It is obvious that he will never totally forgive himself, as evidenced by the fact that he returns to Devon many years later to revisit the tree (the scene of the accident) and the First Building (the scene of the trial and Finny's second fall); however, he has come to grips with who he is and what he has done. He also has refused to let the memories of Finny fade, which is why he has narrated the story.

Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes

Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Plot Synopsis

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