A Separate Peace Essay Example
Identity plays an important part in literature because of the complexity and development of characters in a work. In the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles, boys at the school of Devon face multiple challenges related to the approaching war. One of those challenges relates to the identity that they will pursue in society when they must abandon their former childish selves and assume the roles of men during the war. As teenagers grow older, they must go through an identity crisis in order to define who they will be as an adult.
Finny creates an alternate universe in which he lives that contains only good ideas that define his identity and shield him from reality. As Finny and Gene sit and talk, Finny states, “There isn’t any war” (115). The reader later learns that Phineas knew there was a war all along, but he did not want to admit to it until he found his place in it. Finny stating that there is no war reveals his identity crisis because he wants to be something he physically can not be, and therefore, is conflicted in who he will become when it comes time to transition into adulthood. Finny’s personality reveals many different characteristics of the identity he would have assumed as a man.
Brinker and Leper work through identity crisis’ that occur in relation to the war. Even though military life strongly contrasts with his gentle, nature-loving personality, Leper Lepellier takes everyone by surprise when he states, “I’m going to enlist in these ski troops” (125). Later, the reader discovers that the war has taken a toll on Leper as he explains his thoughts and hallucinations he has had since enlisting.
This spontaneous decision made during a time in which he questions his individuality ultimately leads to the determination of his permanent identity. Comparatively, Brinker Hadley, a model student, leads an act of rebellion in response to Finny’s return to Devon after the accident; “for Brinker the Lawgiver had turned rebel for the Duration” (131). Brinker’s transformation, while it seems immature, reveals his true maturity towards the end of the story. Brinker becomes disillusioned with the idea of fighting because he does not want to fight in a war that his father’s generation started. This concept depicts Brinker’s crisis in who he wants to be because the war has overtaken his life and has made him decide what his identity will be early on when that decision could have been avoided entirely. Brinker and Leper’s identities are revealed through their personal experiences with the war.
Gene’s crisis lies not between him and the war, but between him and Finny. As Finny lay in the infirmary, Gene wallows in the bedroom, and as he does, decides to put on Finny’s pink shirt; “I had no idea why this gave me such intense relief, but it seemed, standing there in Finny’s triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again” (62). In this moment, Gene becomes Finny.
This section of the story depicts that without Finny, Gene has no identity of his own. Moreover, at Finny’s funeral, Gene says that he does not cry for Finny; “I did not cry then or ever about Finny. I did not cry even when I stood watching him being lowered into his family's strait-laced burial ground outside of Boston. I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case (194). Gene feels that Finny’s funeral is his own because in their time together, Gene has become Finny. The loss of Finny signifies the loss of Gene; therefore, Gene will be forced to discover his true personal identity. The connection between Gene and Finny creates conflict in Gene because he does not know himself without Finny.
In the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the author portrays the thought that as people grow into adults, they must work through an identity crisis in order to know their true identity. Multiple characters in this book work through many challenges in order to find themselves. Just as in this book, teenagers in the real world experience the same thoughts, feelings, and emotions; this time is crucial for their future, and can either make or break their reputation forever.