Gene and Phineas in “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles


The novel “A separate Peace” by John Knowles is a truly remarkable work, which gives insights into the inner worlds of two ordinary boys, exploring crucial topics, like jealousy, betrayal, true friendship, forgiveness, relationships between people. It introduces a flashback narration of the protagonist of the story Gene about the time when he was a schoolboy. Gene tells the story about himself and his best friend Phineas, their relations, his feelings towards his friend, and his betrayal of his friend. All the actions within the novel seem to be rendered in comparison to the two boys’ actions and decisions. This is where the reader receives all the information about boys, about their profiles and intentions, and consequently can make a conclusion about them and the novel. Nonetheless, most of the novel is the narration of Gene and his flashbacks, feelings, sometimes regrets, the novel is devoted to the other boy, Gene’s friend, Phineas.

Main body

Firstly, the fact, that Phineas is a focal point of the novel can not be lost on the reader. Every event, presented within the novel concerns Finny as either a main functioning character or the one, who is being a passive participant in the events, which unfold in the novel. Finny is presented to the reader as an outstanding athlete, with a very good personality inside. He is presented as an ideal from any side, infecting the surrounding people with his joy for life, his ability to enjoy each moment of it. Whether it be Gene or anybody else, he would be involved with the ideas, provided by Phineas. For example, Gene mentions his inability to resist Finny’s ideas, saying “What was I doing up here anyway? Why did I let Finny talk me into stupid things like this? Was he getting some kind of hold over me?” (Knowles, p. 9). Then, the reader is occupied with the situation on the tree, where Finny appears to be the victim and the main focus of the reader. And up till the end of the book, Finny reveals the reader’s attention to himself.

Next Gene’s envy made him so obsessed with Finny’s success in sports and not only, that he not intentionally made Finny stand against the foreground of the book. Gene’s feeling reveals in his thoughts “[Finny] could get away with anything. I couldn’t help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little.” (Knowles, p. 18). Every time the best friends saw each other, Gene had an agenda, to somehow harm his friend, which gradually grew into a big accident on the tree. After the accident, Gene is further obsessed with the pains of remorse, and constantly analyzing his act, he contributes to Finny’s further fame.

Finally, Finny is presented as a realistic character or the one, who lives in reality, while Gene lives in his fixed thoughts, this makes the reader feel an appeal for Finny. The narrator of the novel failed to show his real profile. It seems that his thoughts, concerning his friend and feelings, overwhelming him, made Gene a character living insight himself. He does not show his real human identity, concealing it under the mask of non-involvement and rejection of brutality of his intentions and deeds. The narrator himself makes Finny stand out in the novel, putting himself to the periphery of the reader’s attention and compassion. For instance “… the surrounding world confusion found no reflection inside me [Gene]. So I ceased to have any real sense of it.” (Knowles, p. 115). Finny’s feelings and perception of the world were real and sincere. He does not have a clue about his friend’s thoughts and along the novel stays a true friend to him. When Finny dies, Gene does not cry at his funeral, thinking,” I could not escape a feeling that this was my funeral, and you do not cry in that case.” (Knowles, 186) It appears that Gene lived through his friend, having to envy him. He could not let his filings go and just be himself. This, though metaphorical death, shows that the time has come for Gene to come back to reality. Gene understands this perfectly, which is revealed in his words “During the time I was with him, Phineas created an atmosphere in which I continued now to live, a way of sizing up the world with erratic and entirely personal reservations, letting its rocklike facts sift through and be accepted only a little at a time, only as much as he could assimilate without a sense of chaos and loss.” (Knowles, p. 194). This citation makes it clear that the narrator lived with his friend Finny, he had some feelings, though concealed from others, but real. And after his friend’s death, he lives in flashbacks, constantly recollecting the past. He lives in the past.

Inferring, it is necessary to mention, that the novel “A separate Peace” by John Knowles is an insightful work, which brings up crucial issues. There are several characters presented within the book. Nevertheless, it can be regarded as a novel about a seemingly minor character, Finny. Though he is not a narrator and does not state anything in the novel, he manages to stand out from others using being a focal point in the events, unfolded in the plot, using the narrator’s obsession with his personality, and using Finny’s sincere perception of the world. Gene as a narrator of the book revealed the many-sided personality of his friend Finny the best he could, using all his intelligence. Maybe this was the narrator’s modest try to somehow make amends.

Works Cited

John Knowles. A Separate Peace. Bantam. 1984