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A War Torn Mentality - a Separate Peace

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A War-Torn Mentality

War can create feelings of darkness and devastation, making everything around it solemn. Those who grow up around war, during war and with the expectation of going to war are often greatly affected by the peril that surrounds them. In A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, the idea of graduating and going off to fight in WWII defines the end of childhood for the community at Devon. Devon is a war preparatory school, and Gene, the narrator and protagonist as well as Leper, the class outcast change throughout the novel as they prepare to graduate. As their time to fight draws closer, the boys undergo behavioral changes, which in some cases will permanently change their lives in ways they will never be able to escape. Gene's instinct for survival is bolstered by the competition war creates around him, splitting his personality into two parts- one that adores his best friend Finny, the other that views him as a threat to his own survival. Leper also undergoes changes that alter his mindset, and drive him to insanity. Had these boys not attended Devon, and had they not been able to feel the end of their childhood drawing nearer, they would not have been as dramatically altered by the War happening around him. Growing up with the idea that they will inevitably fight in the War inhibits these characters' ability to mature normally, and breed competitive survival instincts that cause them the boys act in ways they never would otherwise.

The ominous idea of war looms over Devon, provoking behavioral changes in Gene, who finds himself more and more compelled to be better than his best friend Phineas. In some ways he begins to feel like he should perhaps even become Phineas, or at least attempt to be as good as him. As he draws nearer to his obligation to fight in the war, he enters a mental fight with Phineas. Gene goes from thinking of Finny as his best friend to realizing that "[Finny] had never been jealous of me for a second. [...]. I was not of the same quality as he. I couldn't stand this," (51), and this revelation, that Finny is of a better character than he, eats at him. The idea of the war, and the idea that he is inferior to his best friend breeds a rivalry in Gene that progresses out of control as the story continues. These ideas take over Gene's id, to the point where Gene goes so far as to intentionally hurt Finny. His overwhelming id creates a double personality in Finny. One side adores Gene; the other has a hatred, and jealousy for him. The side containing feelings of envy consumes Gene in that moment, as his id compels him to shake the branch of the tree, causing Finny to fall and break his leg. This action haunts him permanently. As Gene's super ego, and alternate, loving side resumes control, he feels guilty for his actions. Phineas' nonchalantly exhibited excellence provokes Gene's id until he eventually succumbs to it. Without the anticipation of war, Gene would not have developed this overly-competitive mindset which provokes him to take out the enemy. Gene believes Finny is better than him and thus, Finny is the enemy. The war creates a second, callous and evil



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