A Separate Peace - Thematic Analysis

A Separate

Peace - Thematic Analysis

An analysis of John Knowles A Separate

Peace brings up the theme of man's inhumanity to his fellow man. What makes
this novel unique is that in protesting war, Knowles never overtly referred
to the blood and gore of war; he showed the consequences of war, some paralleling
the nature of war and some simply laying out how World War II affected
noncombatants thousand miles away. There have been many books written about
war, what happens, why it happens, and why wars should stop. Knowles explains
through the life of Finny why war never will cease, with only one death
in the entire book; a quiet one at that.

When Gene is responsible for Finny's fall
off the tree, the reader is in some confusion as to what really happened.

All the book reads at this juncture is "Holding firmly to the trunk, I
took a step near him, and then my knees bounced and I jounced the limb.

Finny, his balance gone, swung his head to look at me for an instant with
extreme interest, and then he tumbled sideways, broke through the little
branches below and hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud." The
reader does not know whether it was accidental or intentional. It is not
until later that Finny realizes that Gene is responsible for his crippling,
and what a natural thing it was to do. Gene bounced the branch just to
see if he could make the invincible Finny fall; at least, this is why Gene
claims he did it. This is true, but at some level, Gene was scared of Finny,
of his confidence, his abilities, and his potential for breaking records.

Consider Gene's paranoia over Finny's attempts to make him adventurous.

Gene interprets these genuine acts of friendship as attempts to prevent
him from reaching the top of the academic ladder.

This paranoia parallels war in that after
it is declared, no one is safe. Countries, leaders, people suspicious of
all who are perceived as a threat, causing them to lash out at anyone even
peripherally involved. Adequately proven in A Separate Peace, there are
also historical examples: the Nazi death camps, the American Japanese-American
relocation camps, and the McCarthyism of the fifties. Apparently, in America,
the Constitution rules until war is declared, then paranoia and vindictiveness
take charge. When Gene had the opportunity to get back at Finny, he did,
which is so human it is disheartening. This tenet of our nature precludes,
before it has even begun, the idea of world peace. Some country will always
feel that another is stronger, or a threat, and initiate action.

Another example of man's capacity for viciousness
against his fellow is Leper's insanity. Leper, an outcast at Devon, was
one of the first juniors to enlist. An avid naturalist, he was entranced
by the ski patrol, zooming about on clean, crisp snow. When he discovered
the horrible reality of war, he cracked. The students at Devon, when they
heard this, acted like the human creatures they were; they laughed. It
was a survival reflex, laughing at a horror they would soon been forced
to endure. Picking on Leper, Brinker and his buddies revealed the human
need to blame someone, to distract the eye from their own fear.

A final example of man's inhumanity to
man as shown in A Separate Peace is the inquiry by Brinker and his panel
to find out what happened the day Finny broke his leg. Gene himself says
of Brinker and the proceedings: "He's enjoying this, he's imagining himself

Justice incarnate, balancing the scales. He's forgotten that Justice incarnate
is not only blindfolding the scales but also blindfolded." With Finny begging
for him to stop, he relentlessly probed, determined to find the truth,
a truth that helped no one and hurt everyone. Because Brinker insisted
on proceeding with his little drama, Finny loses what was possibly one
of his most precious possessions: Gene. All this playacting ultimately
accomplished was one thing: Finny's death. The marrow of Finny's bones
killed him, thus, it seems the symbolism is man's inner core will defeat
him. Because we are human, we are imperfect, and the perfect among us (symbolized
by Finny) cannot exist, so that ideal society will never become a reality.

This novel illustrates man can be cruel
to his fellow man. John Knowles' A Separate Peace demonstrates why men
go to war, and why they cannot stop. This remarkable feat is accomplished
with the telling of a single unique individual and his death.