Introduction to A Separate Peace By John Knowles
A Separate Peace • Today’s presentation – Author – Setting – Plot – Characters – Literary Elements
About the Author John Knowles • Born in West Virginia on September 16, 1926 • Knowles was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, which served as a model for the setting of A Separate Peace. • A Separate Peace was Knowles’ first work, which earned him the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. This established Knowles as a successful author.
Phillips Exeter Academy • Devon School, the setting of A Separate Peace, is based heavily on the Phillips Exeter Academy.
Phillips Exeter Academy
Historical Context World War II • Began in 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland, and officially ended in August 1945, when the Japanese surrendered. • A Separate Peace takes place during the summer of 1942, directly in the center of World War II. In America: In order to cope with the war, America instituted rations on books, sugar, coffee, and other goods. • To conserve gasoline, a national 35 MPH speed limit was implemented, and driving for pleasure was banned. • Most young women either dated older men, or didn’t date at all! • By the summer of 1942, many Americans realized that the war was far from over.
Plot Overview • • • Story is told as a flashback to 15 years ago from Gene Forrester’s perspective Gene was a quiet, intellectual student at the Devon School in New Hampshire. During the summer session of 1942, Gene becomes close friends with Finny, his daredevil roommate Finny prods Gene into making a dangerous jump out of a tree into a river, and the two start a secret society based on this ritual. Gene becomes jealous of Finny’s athletic accomplishments and convinces himself that Finny is trying to distract Gene from achieving academically. While Gene’s jealously turns into hate, he carefully maintains a relationship with him.
A Separate Peace Characters • • • Gene Forrester Finny Elwin “Leper” Lepellier Brinker Hadley Cliff Quackenbush Chet Douglass Mr. Ludsbury Dr. Stanpole Mr. Patch-Withers
Gene Forester • Unreliable Narrator/protagonist • Gene is in his early thirties, visiting the Devon School for the first time in years. • Flashbacks to a story of his childhood from the vantage point of adulthood. • Has love-hate relationship with his best friend Finny • Gene is also often jealous of Finny because he is good at everything and so carefree
Finny • Honest, handsome, energetic, self-confident, best athlete in the school • Extremely likable – able to talk his way out of any situation • Gene describes Finny like that of a Greek hero (always excelling physically, always spirited. ) • Finny loves the thrill of competition and does not care about winning/losing • Always thinks the best of people, counts no one as his enemy, and assumes that the world is a fundamentally friendly place.
Ellwin Leper Lepellier • Quiet, peaceful, nature-loving boy • Shocks his classmates by being 1 st in Devon to enlist in the army • Leper has hallucinations that reflect the fears and angst of adolescence • He fears transformation of boys into men—and, in wartime, of boys into soldiers, which causes anxiety and inner turmoil.
Brinker Hadley Cliff Quakenbush • Manager of the crew team • Boys at Devon have never liked Quackenbush • frequently takes out his frustrations on anyone whom he considers his inferior • • • straight-laced and conservative. complete confidence in his own abilities believes in justice and order and goes to great lengths to discover the truth when he feels that it is being hidden from him.
Chet Douglass Mr. Ludsbury • Gene’s main rival for the position of class valedictorian The master in charge of Gene’s dormitory • excellent tennis and trumpet player and possesses a sincere love of learning. Stern disciplinarian Dr. Stanpole • Devon’s resident doctor • Caring man who laments the troubles that afflict the youth of Gene’s generation. • Operates on Finny Mr. Patch-Withers • The substitute headmaster of Devon during the summer session. • Runs the school with a lenient hand
Literary Context • A Separate Peace belongs to a genre of literature called Bildungsroman. This is a German term which describes a novel whose main character matures over time, usually from childhood. • The journey from innocence to experience. • “Coming of age” story • Similar to Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace deals with children coming to terms with their identity set against the backdrop of World War.
Main Themes -main issues and ideas; questions posed by the actions of characters; concerns raised in our minds as we read A. Friendship B. Conformity C. Illusion vs Reality D. Youth (challenges of growing up)
Chapter 1 • • • High school years – Quick growth and self-discovery – Forging and breaking friendships – Proving self to others- classroom/field – want to be individuals while belonging in a group Narrator (1 st person point of view) – Gene Forrester, adult – Devon School, New Hampshire – Gene struggling – Suspense – “long white marble flight of stairs”- 1 st destination – Tree- 2 nd destination • Foreshadowing Summer of 1942 – 15 years earlier- flashback – WWII – 16 yrs old
Chapter 2 War is not realistic- studies are more important – – – Pink shirt- celebrate bombing of central Europe Devon tie for a belt (27) “no harm in envying even your best friend a little” (25) Finny – Manipulates their tardiness; gets away w/ things – Boys of 16 • “sign of life the war was being fought to preserve” (24) – – – Makes Gene jealous Inner awareness that Finny is growing up makes him fight harder to keep from growing up Saves Gene from falling Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session - Successful jump together
• Finny – – Chapter 3 Thrives being “on the edge” Wants to pull Gene in Makes rules about everything blitzball • SSSSS (Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session) – Created for tree jumping – Gene jumps to not “lose face” w/ Finny
Chapter 3 • Swimming record- A. Hopkins Parker – Dominates water- not even the elements are exempt from Finny’s superiority – Frustration for Gene – Finny does not want to tell anyone • Beach – “best pal” awkward moment • The truth won’t let Gene respond – – Gene resents his Finny jealousy
Chapter 4 • Foreshadowing and Imagery – Dead, gray – Allusion= reference – Biblical allusion • Garden of Eden • Lazarus • Trigonometry test – Gene believes Finny tricked him so he can’t be “even” w/ him – Gene decides they are rivals • Does Finny feel this way? • “I’d kill myself out of jealous envy. ” (52) • Adult narrator realizes mistake
• The tree Chapter 4 – Leper decides to jump • Finny lying? • Gene – paranoid of sabotage – If Gene watches, he can’t study – Finny doesn’t realize Gene needs to study Gene realizes Finny is true friend (59) – “I was not of the same quality as he. ” • Can’t handle this truth = Finny is a better person than Gene – Finny wants to jump “Side by side” – equals – Gene jounces limb Finny falls • Before Gene jumps, he is free from the fear and jealousy of Finny
Characterization -the creation of believable fictitious personalities Methods • Explicit statement by author • Character’s appearance • Aspects of setting which reflect influence of the character • Character’s actions, including mannerisms • Character’s thoughts • What the character says • What others say about the character
Contrast the summer and winter sessions? Summer winter • • • War • Reminders of war Peace Freedom Joy Teachers more lenient – Senior year • Harsher values emerge • Sterner regimen
Why assistant crew manager? • Sports are finished for Gene b/c Finny can no longer play • A form of penance; punishment for his sin
27. What is the significance of Devon’s two rivers? • Reflects dual nature of humanity – Peace vs war • Devon river – Gentle, pure stream, boy’s playground – Peaceful summer – Isolated & protected from outside world (war) • Naguamsett – Dirty, unpleasant – Winter – Flows into ocean- ties it to the world (war)
28. What is the “separate peace” that Finny has established? • Winter carnival • Military term- withdrawal of one group of combatants, even though the war continues • “Fleeting moment of illusion in an overwhelming reality” p. 137 • End of ch. 9
Leper’s change of heart toward war? Recruitment film • Leper- deceived by an illusion – Perfect, white version • Film does not show the reality of war – Unable to confront reality
Chapter 5 • After fall Gene is – Numb- loses touch with feelings – Withdraws- Spends time alone – Wears Finny’s clothes • Tries to be Finny • Dr. Stanpole- “sports are finished” – Leg broken in several places- never normal • Gene – Fights guilt – Visits Finny at hospital- wants to confess – Doctor interrupts
Ch. 5 • Finny says “I just fell” p. 65 – In hospital – Doesn’t want to accuse Gene – Apologizes for “having a feeling” p. 66 • Fall- Senior year – Gene makes detour to Finny’s house – Again attempts to confess “I jounced the limb, I caused it. ” • Finny’s house – Gene hurts Finny w/ confession- plants seed of doubt
Chapter 6 • Return to Devon- mixed emotion – New ideas, friendships, teachers – Seniors – military – School is painful w/out Finny • Second phase of novel- other boys become important – – – Crew house job – assistant crew manager Gene’s way of doing penance Not violating Finny’s sacred position as ultimate athlete Escape the atmosphere of competition Quakenbush • Calls Gene “maimed” • Causes Gene to think of Finny guilt
Ch. 6 • Rivers: Naguamsett & Devon – Symbolism p. 76 • Mr. Ludsbury – Teacher in charge of dorms – Reprimanded for sloppiness, gambling • Long distance call from Finny – Make sure there is no roommate – Everything OK? – “If I can’t play sports, then you’re going to play them for me. ” p. 85 Tree- Fall of Man
Chapter 7 • Brinker is jealous of Gene – Room meant for 2 • Butt room – Brinker announces that Gene committed fratricide (half-joking) – Game- crime/murder – Contrasts later “real” trial • Winter & war dull the memory of Finny & summer – 200 boys shovel snow from RR yards to aid war effort
Chapter 7 • Leper goes cross country skiing – Looking for beaver dams; enjoys nature – Reminds reader – there doesn’t always have to be a direct purpose to our actions. Some things we do just to enjoy them • Troop trains filled with boys – Devon boys think seriously about enlisting – Gene and Brinker decide to join • Make a break w/ childhood – Run from Finny • “The war would be deadly alright, but I was used to finding something deadly in things that attracted me. ” • Finny in room!
Chapter 8 • Gene changes mind about joining army • Gene is more conscious of Finny’s disability than Finny • Accident seems to have brought boys closer – Finny’s stride has changed, but his instinct of disrupting routines has not – Go to gym- skip class • Finny coaches Gene for 1944 Olympics • illusion – They nurture each other • Tutoring- academics, athletics – “Because I’ve suffered” p. 116 • We see the real Finny
Chapter 8 • "What makes you so special? Why should you get it and all the rest of us be in the dark? " The momentum of the argument abruptly broke from his control. His face froze. "Because I've suffered, " he burst out. • This questions the notion of Gene growing older and wiser while Finny remains left behind in a world of youth. It reminds us that, in some ways, Finny has learned lessons that Gene has not. • Theme of Youth
Chapter 9 • Leper- first to enlist in war – Recruitment film- “cleanest image of war I had ever seen” p 124 – Color imagery, symbolism - white • Finny in all-out campaign to deny war – illusion • Winter Carnival – – Brinker depressed about war Jugs of hard cider Tables with prizes (Betty Grable photos, stolen $$) Play was liberation- “escape from the encroachments of 1943” • A separate peace from reality – Peace interrupted by reality- telegram from Leper