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A Separate Peace - Gene and Phineas’s Relationship Essay

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Competition not only exists between bitter enemies, but also between the closest of friends and inside oneself. Often, competition between two friends is influenced by potent jealousy of someone else that one may possess deep down. Ultimately, this competition leads one to feel resentment toward a person that they once regarded as a close companion. Likewise, a person may aggressively compete with others to be friends with someone else, creating tension with those around them. In addition, people frequently feel internal conflict within themselves, competing with their own emotions. In A Separate Peace, the protagonist, Gene, competes with his best friend and develops a hard-fought battle with internal conflict. Moreover, Gene experiences the negative influence of a character with an extremely competitive personality. Throughout the novel A Separate Peace, John Knowles sets a dark tone regarding competition in his portrayal of Gene and Phineas’s relationship, Gene’s battle with internal conflict, and the negative effects of Brinker’s competitive personality.

In the novel, Gene describes his best friend and roommate, Phineas, as a stellar athlete with a charming and charismatic personality. In Gene’s mind, Finny is flawless in every way. However, this admiration that Gene has for Finny causes him to become deeply envious of his friend. Gene begins to feel that Phineas is his adversary who is competing with Gene and trying to hinder his academic well-being. Despite Gene feeling this sense of enmity, he keeps his emotions a secret and does not openly express his frustration with Phineas. Gene narrates, “But examinations were at hand. I wasn’t as ready for them as I wanted to be. The Suicide Society continued to meet every evening, and I continued to attend because I didn’t want Finny to understand me as I understood him” (56). While Gene is secretly consumed with competing with his friend, Finny is completely oblivious to the competition and does not have any negative intentions toward Gene. One night, however, in the tree that the two boys typically jump off of into the river, Gene’s dark and resentful feelings are revealed. When describing what happened that night, Gene recounts, “Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent and I jounced the limb. Finny, his balance gone, swung his head around to look at me for an instant with extreme interest, and then he tumbled sideways, broke through the little branches below and hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud” (59-60). Finny shatters his leg severely, permanently robbed of his athletic abilities. Although Gene does not consciously try to injure Phineas, his emotions surface within the short amount of time in the tree, and his impulsive actions eventually cause him to feel extremely guilty. Because of the guilt and anguish that it causes Gene in the novel, competition is regarded as a dark and negative theme throughout A Separate Peace.

Throughout the novel, John Knowles depicts Gene’s competitive battle with internal conflict through the narration of his thoughts. He struggles with finding his identity in his teenage years at the Devon school and longs for acceptance among his peers. Gene is not true to his genuine personality. Rather, he behaves in a way that will impress others- particularly Finny. Whatever Finny does, even if it is a poor choice, Gene follows his lead. Gene’s extreme admiration and envy for Phineas causes him to be a follower, rather than a leader, making it difficult to find his own true identity. Gene narrates, “Then in the everyday, mediocre tone he used when he was proposing something really outrageous, he added, ‘Let’s go to the beach.’ The beach was hours away by bicycle, forbidden, completely out of all bounds. Going there risked expulsion, destroyed the studying I was going to do for an important test the next morning, blasted the reasonable amount of order I wanted to maintain in my life, and it also involved the kind of long, labored bicycle ride I hated. ‘All right,’ I said” (45-46). Despite Gene’s persistent complaining, he agrees to anything Finny suggests, no matter what the risk. Consequently, Gene becomes frustrated without openly expressing it, due



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