Essay/Term paper: A separate peace: contrasting gene and phineas and the struggle for power
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A Separate Peace: Contrasting Gene and Phineas and the Struggle for Power
John Knowles' A Separate Peace depicts many examples of how power is
used. In A Separate Peace, two opposing characters struggle for their own
separate might. Gene Forrester, the reserved narrator, is weakened by his
struggle for power. While, Phineas was inspired by his own power within. The
novel conveys how peace can weaken or inspire during a mental war.
Phineas, a natural rebel, is known as the best athlete in school. For
example, he and three others come to look at a tree, which is considered among
the Upper Middler students at Devon an impossibility. Phineas demonstrates his
supreme power by stating that the tree is, indeed, a "cinch" (p. 6). No Upper
Middler had dared to do the unthinkable, vaulting off a tree to land in a
shallow river. Phineas is the first to do this. This single statement tells us
much about him. He doesn't mind taking risks, enjoys intimidating others, and
over exaggerates. It tells that he is very strong and powerful to be able to do
what others can not do. The denotation of power is "the capability of achieving
something." Not only is Phineas achieving something from jumping off this tree,
he is achieving power by gaining the respect of fellow classmates. Phineas'
spontaneity inspires many others to be like himself and jump off the tree.
Another example of Phineas' power is his character establishing scene of
disrespect to the school by wearing his pink shirt and the Devon School tie as
his belt. We here, again, see him as the spontaneous individual who "can get
away with anything" (p.18). Phineas' nature inspired Mr. Patch-Withers, a
teacher at Devon. Phineas has an eloquence about himself, allowing him to get by
with so much. Phineas "might have rather enjoyed the punishment if it was done
in some kind of novel and known way" (p.20). Even with negative actions,
Phineas can enjoy a situation if it presents something new and different. It is
this spontaneous and contradictory nature which Gene cannot understand and
which ultimately contributes to his attempting to destroy Phineas.
Gene Forrester, after being gone for fifteen years, returns to the Devon
School to recollect his past memories of the summer session when he was sixteen
years old. As stated before, Phineas was considered the best athlete in school,
but Gene tried to compensate by being the best student in school. Gene's
continuous competition with Phineas weakened his personality, hence causing
Gene's rebellion on Phineas. Gene begins to think that his purpose is
"to become part of Phineas" (p.77). Phineas states that Gene has to play
sports now for him. Then, Gene realizes that this must have been his purpose in
pushing Phineas off the limb. He is to become part of him. Consequently, in
wounding Phineas, Gene has brought Phineas down to his level or below it, so
that Phineas will be partly dependant upon Gene and, in this way, Gene can
become a part of Phineas' life. Nevertheless, in the beginning of the book, Gene
describes the overwhelming feeling of jumping off the tree. It seemed as if he
"was throwing [his] life away" (p.9). It's ironic that Gene would say this
because it symbolizes his life after Phineas' accident. The accident destroyed
Phineas' life and it took a part of Gene's life, too. His life totally and
drastically is changed because Phineas is all he has. Without Phineas, he has no
life nor personality. He and Phineas are one. His life is formless and void.
Gene developed a hatred for Phineas because of this reason. Gene feels that
Phineas personally tries to take over and control him. Gene created a war
between himself and Finny that never existed. Gene concludes that he "killed
[his] enemy there," meaning that he killed both Finny and also what was, at the
same time, foreign and inadmissable to his way of life (p.196). Gene believes
that he is weak. Subconsciencely, he is powerful. If he is not, he could never
had the mental strength of pushing Phineas out of the tree. This helpless nudge
soon became a random act of violence that ended in death.
Did Phineas purposelessly tried to take over Gene's life to weaken him
and make himself more powerful? Most likely, not. Phineas is the perfectly
natural and spontaneous person who is not capable of doing something mean or
ugly. He responds to life with natural emotions and all things, except studying,
come easily to him. He is not capable of such emotions as jealousy or envy. He
lives in a world of happiness and joy and he communicates these qualities to the
people whom he meets. Phineas was powerful in many ways: his strength, his
spontaneity, and, most of all, his love.
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A Separate Peace
"Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent and I jounced the limb." This is a quotation from the novel A Separate Peace, written by John Knowles. My focus in the following will be on Man's Inhumanity to Man. There is a strong relation of this to the novel for which I read.
My first point which I will talk about is about Finny's tragic fall and how Gene was the cause of it. My support from the story is Finny's desire to jump from the tree. Gene said that he was coming to join him but Finny reminded him about studying. Gene's thoughts on the matter were, "He had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us, I couldn't stand this." My second support is Gene's actions leading to the accident. He took a step toward the trunk, put his knees and jounced the limb. Thus, Finny lost his balance and tumbled to the ground. My third support goes back to the scene of the accident after Gene watches Finny fall. And he thinks to himself, "It was the first clumsy physical action I had ever seen him make." More less, this is a sign of pride within Gene as he watches the good athlete, Finny fall out of the tree.
My second point is on the scene where Brinker brings Finny and Gene to the mock trial
to let everyone know the real truth about the cause of the accident. In other words, it was a
way of blasting away Gene and shoving his reputation as a respected individual into the
ground. My support from the story is when Brinker and three acquaintances come into Gene
and Finny's dorm and pull them out. After they entered the Assembly Room, Brinker
remarks, "You see how Finny limps." This phrase was the beginning of his plan to set the
truth loose, or primarily break the friendship link between Finny and Gene. Brinker chose
the Assembly Room as the setting for this trial since there is nothing humorous about the
place. It is a place which would be terrible for Gene's sake to talk about the cause of
the accident. My second support is Brinker's remark in consociation to the accident. He
says to Gene, "There is a war on, here's one soldier our side has already lost. We've got
to find out what happened." A powerful remark by Brinker which ignites the trial. This
indicates a strong reason for the trial, Brinker uses this republican tactic to have the
truth let out. The truth that will undoubtedly break the strong bond between Finny and
Gene. The truth in which will lead to another tragic fall of Finny. My third support is
during the trial when Brinker and Gene are talking about the accident. Brinker asks
Finny, "Have you ever thought that you didn't just fall out of that tree?" This inquiry
from Brinker sets Finny into a different focus which will open up the accident, a focus
which will narrow it all down to Gene being questioned. These are the examples of
Brinker's inhumanity to let the truth loose. His focus is not on just getting the truth
out, but breaking Finny and Gene's Friendship.
My third point is about when Leper calls Gene to visit him in his Vermont home and Gene
runs away. This falls under the Man's Inhumanity to Man category because Gene runs from Leper because
he cannot face the fact that Leper has gone crazy. My support for this is when Leper
tells Gene, "You always were the lord of the manor, weren't you?" This statement is an
example of pushing Gene. It gets Gene upset. My next support is Leper's quote to Gene
which resulted in Gene's physical outburst on Leper. Leper says "like the time you
knocked Finny out of the tree." This provokes Gene because it is reminding him of his
inhumane action to Finny. Thus, resulting in Gene being inhumane to Leper and knocking
him out of his chair. My final support is when the scene finally ends. Gene says to
Leper, "Do you think I want to hear every detail, I don't care what happened to you
Leper." This quote from Gene is after Leper explained to him the details of his insanity.
Gene cannot hear anymore of Leper's talk about his insanity and runs away. This is my
final argument in regards to the involvement of Man's Inhumanity to Man in the story "A
My conclusion is that "A Separate Peace" was a story about friendship, loyalty and
dishonor. Man's Inhumanity to Man was very high in this story. Another example was when all of the fellow
peers were making fun of Leper. Friends who have a bonding with one another actually feel
jealousy, and they let the jealously connect within their conscious. This jealousy moves
the what's right and what's wrong part out of the picture. This isn't just an issue of
this novel, it's an issue of life. People, family, friends, etc.. do things to one
another which are inhumane. These actions can result in death and/or destruction. For
example, Hitler's hatred of a particular group resulted in the massacre of thousands of
The reason for my choosing this topic was because I felt that the examples of Man's
Inhumanity to Man in the story had a profound effect on me when reading the story. This is because
these situations dealt with things which occur in life. People are always betraying,
cheating, and lying to people in every means possible. Other effects on life may even
include adultery, crime, murder, along with theft. From my personal experience I strongly
agree with Man being inhumane to Man. People have lied, and conned me into doing things.
Along with the fact that people have used me for their advantage. This is why I choose
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