A Separate Peace   by John Knowles


Theme of Friendship

The central theme of John Knowles' A Separate Peace is mainly based on the friendship between the two main characters, Phineas and Gene.  Phineas also known as Finny, is "a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete," and Gene is a "lonely, introverted intellectual."  The novel begins with Gene as an adult visiting his old high school.  As he is walking along the school grounds he recalls the very first time that he and Phineas climbed and jumped off of their special tree (as represented by the picture on the left.)

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy-
"Friendship, is a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other's sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy. As such, friendship is undoubtedly central to our lives, in part because the special concern we have for our friends must have a place within a broader set of concerns, including moral concerns, and in part because our friends can help shape who we are as persons."

"It takes years to build up trust,
and just seconds to destroy it."
~ Unknown.

In the beginning chapters, Finny was always persuading Gene to go along with all his activities such as going to the beach, participating in the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, and playing blitzball.  Gene tries to mentally reason what Finny's motivations are behind his actions.  Gene cannot believe that someone could be so carefree and happy-go-lucky as Phineas was, without a hidden agenda.  Everybody loved Finny, he was very confident and outgoing.  
"He possessed an extra vigor, a heightened confidence in himself, a serene capacity for affection..."(194)

Gene refuses to recognize his own feelings of insecurity and jealousy as his real enemy.  This subconscious denial leads to the downfall of his friendship with Finny.  Gene dealt with this inner conflict by projecting his fears onto Phineas, his closest friend.
"He [Finny] had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not of the same quality as he" (51).

Upon this realization, Gene began to resent Finny.  Then during one session of the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, Gene was overcome with his feelings of resentment and jounced the limb which Finny was standing on.  Gene felt no remorse as he heard a loud thud from Finny's impact into the ground, and by himself, Gene jumped off the limb into the river.
 "Nothing as he was growing up at home, nothing at Devon, nothing even about the war had broken his harmonious and natural unity. So at last I had" (194-195).

At one point Gene tries to tell Finny that he was to blame for the incident, that he caused it.  However, Finny is not willing to believe that his closest friend would do such a thing. 
"Naturally I don't believe books and I don't believe teachers, but I do believe-it's important for me to believe you [Gene]. Christ, I've got to believe you, at least. I know you better than anybody" (154).

As time passes, Finny begins to subconsciously doubt that Gene did not intentionally mean to hurt him.  Then when Finny's leg broke the second time, he lost it.  Phineas' inner evil became exposed and his superficial personality was shattered.  Gene became the object of Finny's animosity.  However, Phineas could not continue to live as he realized that his own friend had betrayed him.

With the death of Phineas, the relationship deteriorated. When Gene fails to weep at Finny's funeral, he reveals that it is as the funeral is his own. The virtuous bond between the pair was tragically annihilated.
"I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case."

Gene and Phineas initiate the summer session as comrades and end as bitter adversaries.

-------------------I found the lyrics to this song to be an nice exaggeration of the friendship between Gene and Finny, at the beginning of the novel.