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Separate Peace Analysis

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A Separate Peace

Author John Knowles writes a compelling story of two boys

whose lives are intertwined together by virtue of being roommates

at a military academy. The time, the beginning of World War II,

plays a significant part in the story as the author uses the

anticipation of going off to war as an important aspect of the

book. The plot of the story, the relationship between the two

boys, is influenced by the knowledge that military duty for their

country awaits them upon graduation.

The theme of the story seems to be the need of the two boys

to balance each other's unique type of personality. Phineas seems

to be the domineering, outgoing, super-active type, who needs

Gene, a quiet, subdued sort of introvert, to provide a partner

in crime for his wild endeavors. Gene, unable to stand up to

Phineas, gives in again and again, even getting into serious

trouble, jeopardizing his academic standing, and becoming the

butt of his peers' criticisms, to follow the author may not

overly exaggerate the leadership of someone such as Finney, but

it does appear that he makes Gene to be a very weak character

with never enough backbone to stand up to the unending demands

made on him by Phineas.

The need Phineas has to continue to use Gene as the object

of his manipulations is so great that he continues to look upon

Gene as his "friend," even when he should know Gene deliberately

causes him to fall from the tree. Phineas seems to come through

as a skillful, contriving manipulator and Gene is the spineless,

intimidated individual who never can get up the courage to tell

Phineas "No". Finally, in his subconscious mind, he finds a way

to get out from under the influence of Finney and then pays a

heavy price for what he has done. In the opening chapter, Gene

reflects upon the fear in which he had lived, yet he never had

the intestinal fortitude to stand up to Finney. The author does

not leave the reader with a very good taste in the mouth for the

character of the boys. Perhaps this is the author's intent as he

gives the reader a heavy dose of a skillful manipulator and the

weak-kneed object of the manipulations.

The author makes frequent use of simile as he describes

certain things in detail. He is able to draw pictures of things

to enable the reader to see them clearly in one's mind. He makes

use of unusual similes such as describing the stores as

"unromantic as knife blades". The table sitting out in the snow

is "like a sea ankor dragged behind." Brinker is described as

being "as slippery as an Arab, as intriguing as a eunuch". In his

skillful rhetoric the author can make a vivid picture come to the

reader's mind, as clearly as if it were being projected on a

screen in front of the reader.

The author uses metaphors frequently also to project an

image in the reader's mind, a beam of light coming through the

door is a thin yellow slab. The river is "a hard gray-white lane

of ice and Brinker has has a pose of Gibrialtar in

vulnerability". Through these metaphors the author continues to

give comparisons which illustrate the person or object being

described accurately that the reader can almost touch them.

John Knawles uses another technique, personification, in a

few subtle passages. The "patches of ground revealed that they

had been gardens all along Phinea's house" presented a face of

definite elegance to the street. Shrubbery is "too

undernourished to hide the drains". The author uses gentle ways

of personification; no overused and inappropriate human actions

are given to inanimate objects.

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