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A Separate Peace


One of the most revered and utterly enigmatic topics present within
humanity is the evolution of humankind itself. Collectively contrasting
both the origins of man physically and the very beginning of complex
thought processes has been an incredible task, which is currently
undetermined. The exact methods of the mind and of human character are
both delicate and completely beyond true understanding. The only ways
we as a race retain the ability to even attempt to comprehend such
processes is through experimentation and elaboration via written text
and visual arts. The process of human mental evolution, the evolution
of character, is well demonstrated within the novel 
A Separate Peace

authored by John Knowles. Knowles creates such an atmosphere as to carry you as the reader into the minds of the characters. The characters, in a like manner, attempt to delve into their own understanding and determine the whole of an immense complexity of emotions shared between themselves and the other characters. The use of this type of perception is furthered by the narrator's transformation from the very beginning to the very end, and the stories entire basis upon a flashback. The story itself takes place years before the narrator, named Gene, begins to speak of the incidents of which it is composed. This maturation of the young Gene mentioned in the story and the older adult Gene we meet at the very beginning allows us a sense of how Gene as a character evolved. Everybody has their own methods and their own "style" in a manner of speaking, of evolving both physically and mentally. Once you as the reader understand a character's method of evolution, it becomes much easier to understand that c! haracter's thinking pattern and any actions he or she may take further into the story. Before I dive headfirst into the presence of character, I want to mention the incredible use of descriptive and artistic wording to create a rather fantastic sense of setting. The ability of Knowles to create an overwhelming sense of being and imagination allows for the story itself to be played out in real time, visually within the reader's mind. Collated with the immense diversity of readers' imaginations, the story and the characters themselves always appear in the reader's own isolated vision of what is being represented on the page. A very unique and rather brilliant aspect of novels that is thoroughly and well presented in A Separate Peace. At the very start of the story, as aforementioned, Gene as an adult is revisiting the Devon School for boys, where he spent most of his childhood growing up. The revision of his surroundings overwhelms Gene and he begins to envision the incidents of the past, a time when he was in attendance at the school and his experiences with the remaining characters. There is no real main character in my view however, though the post is quite clearly shared between Gene and Phineas. Phineas, nicknamed Finny, was the so-called "jock" at Devon. However, while he was well known and respected for his athletic ability, he would not participate in the legitimate sports programs nor would he acknowledge his rather elevated abilities at all. This is where one of the first of many conflicts in the story enters, why would he show such a disrespect for himself? What could lead him to hold such a gratuitous aspect of modesty? These very questions were constantly, as can be interpreted from the reading, flowing throughout Gene's mind. It existed to such an extent that Gene would eventually execute a rather selfish and questionably deliberate action. This would give way to the beginning of Gene's evolution as well as the diminishing of Finny's state of mind, his evolution. Gene as a youth was in every aspect a complete contrast to his unlikely friend, Finny. Further proving the old phrase "opposites attract." Gene was consistently receiving high grades and accolades for his elevated intellect, however it was not nearly as consistent or well received as Finny's athleticism. While it was never directly stated by Knowles, as far as can be interpreted Gene could not perform well in any type of sport nor could he accept the fact that Finny could. Gene was withholding a great deal of resentment and clear jealousy towards his friend, and in effect would not accept that fact either. He could not understand his emotions to the extent that he was not even aware, or just unable to acknowledge them in the first place. The process of evolution is set in motion and the characters' mental states begin to alter to be completely dissimilar from ere. The most memorable incident from the story, which can also be discerned as the turning point in the story, was the occurrence in the large oak tree. Gene and Finny had brought themselves to grow accustomed to facing fear and pushing it aside. They had on occasion leaped from a large branch upon the tree, falling into a lake below. A sort of rite of passage for Gene, he had begun to displace his fear a little more with every leap from the high perch. Evolving from his old ways into a new and more courageous, even spontaneous individual, completely contrary to his previous and more projected self. While upon the branch, Gene and Finny conversed little. Finny was preparing to jump when Gene abruptly shook the branch with a sudden impelling of his legs. Unable to keep balance, Finny glances at Gene before falling to the earth below, not reaching the soft water of the lake. The water which would have prevented the after effects of the fall, which were in effect a complex mix of irony and tragedy as Finny, the ultimate symbol of courage and athleticism was left shaken and with a broken leg. Thus retarding Finny from any of his previously enjoyed notoriety or pleasure from being "number one" among his colleagues. Immediately following the incident, the adult Gene as narrator reflects upon the scenery in and around the area of the accident. Without any apparent guilt or sense of responsibility, Gene awes at the landscape before himself leaping from the tree, into the water. Fearless and irresponsible, Gene has begun to mold into what I would call a "real" human being. An! individual composed of true character and idealism, while still retaining the ability to be cruel and reckless, whether it is intentional or not. Now that Gene has subconsciously fulfilled his own mental necessity to dispose his friend, which he seems to view in some way as an opposing force, he has inadvertently begun Finny's own stage of evolution. Finny sadly realized as a result of his fall that he would never be able to play sports as he previously did and there remained a chance he may not retain the ability to run ever again. All this in place, in addition to his actual presence at the accident site, Finny quite frankly refused to assemble the overwhelming facts leaving Gene as the sole culprit in a jealous crime. Gene himself was forced to rethink his state of mind at the time, running the incident over and over in his head until he could no longer dispute that he had in fact, intentionally jounced the limb causing the crippling of his friend. The boy next door evolved just enough to employ the ability to dispassionately inflict true injury and eventual mental detriment upon his fellow human being. In this ! case, Phineas his best friend, or so he had previously assumed. Finny, the victim in the situation, was not as accepting or willing to realize the actual pieces composing the incident and all of the factors leading up to it. Even when confronted by a confession, Gene's face to face confession, he would not acknowledge the fact that his best friend would or could intentionally murder his only true abilities and destroy his only hopes for the future. Finny simply denied himself the easy explanation that it "was Gene." He wanted, most likely subconsciously, to have something more representative, something that held within it some higher sense of complexity and/or reasoning. Finny, always being the brave and in some distinct way more than human character, had fallen and broken with a sudden and simple movement of a branch. The "super-human" character represented by Finny both in the eyes of Gene and distantly by Finny himself, had been in a sense fractured by the intentions of a mere mortal, a simpler and less foreboding character; Gene. In this manner, Finny's evolution was not so much a growth in mental or physical aspirations nor was it a gradual process slowly manipulating itself over time. Finny's evolution as a human was something of an inverse operation. Gene gradually moved forward, growing as a person and always evolving, moving upward along some imaginary stairway of character and what it means to be truly human. Finny in contrast, was thrust from what he and those around him saw as the highest form of character and of accomplishment, deep into the broken and shattered wasteland of lesser humanity. He was decelerated in his trip forward and left bitter and unresponsive to his real feelings. Pushing them deeper and farther into his mind in a feeble attempt to forget, or even displace the emotions as inconsequential. The consequences of Finny's denial would catch up with him however and ultimately lead to what most people fear. During a mock trial later in the story, Finny was presented with evidence by supporting character Brinker. In quick summation, Brinker was a confused and rather jealous character in his own right. Throughout the story there are several incidents to suggest Brinker was a manipulator and was attempting to replace Gene as Finny's best friend. Childish and an instigator, Brinker sets up the mock trial in an attempt to sway Finny into finally realizing that Gene hurt him purposely and needed to be excommunicated as a result. Gene was still shaken and somewhat confused by his earlier actions, however he had begun to realize that he had changed and was constantly and consistently changing still, whether he wanted to or not. He was evolving and he began to come to terms with his newfound state of mind. Finny in contrast still could not accept the blatant facts and refused to participate in the trial, leaving only moments after it had begun. In an abstract form of rebellion against his own emotions Finny walked out of the hall where the trail had been proceeding. As the doors closed behind him the remaining characters were silent as Finny's footsteps slowly faded into a sweet silence of pride and ignorance on Finny's part. Abruptly and violently however, the silence was shattered by the muffled but distinct sound of something heavy hitting the floor. The characters ran to the scene and found Finny lying at the bottom of the stairs. Tragedy had again struck the very soul of Finny as his leg had br! oken once more. The ultimate irony had restated its presence and such effects. As a result of his second fall, a piece of bone marrow from Phineas' leg had separated and traveled through his bloodstream finally reaching his heart where it rested within an artery. The marrow clogged the artery and Finny died on the operating table. Tragedy had become a recurring aspect of Knowles' vision. Tragedy and the struggle of human characters with both their own psychological imperfections and the effects that those impurities have upon the interaction and/or nature of the other characters in that particular story. Knowles has brilliantly combined the complexity of human emotions with the very fabric of character evolution. He has proven that evolution is not only dependent upon a character and his or her actions, yet is constituted of all of the character's emotions in unison with the interplay between the character and their environment. The way that all factors combined ultimately reflects upon that character's evolution as well as the evolution of fellow c! haracters as effects.  


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