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[92] A Separate Peace – John Knowles

separatepeace.jpgSet in a New England boarding school for boys in 1942, A Separate Peace banishes the distant war to an illusion. The novel begins with a tiny incident among ordinary teenage boys that runs a seditious course and ends by being as deep and as irretrievable as evil itself. In the refuge of Devon School from war finds two friends whose completely opposite personalities make the best of a friendship. Gene is a lonely, introverted, flat-chested intellectual who strives to wound up the top of the class. Phineas is a handsome, taunting athlete who has a streak of the unruly in his nature and a serene capacity to affection.

Encroaching the reality of the war might be, the focus of this novel is internal. That Gene refuses to face his own jealousy and insecurity makes him declare war within his own soul, which becomes the battleground of his fear, hatred, love. All these heart elements combat for control of his actions, and amidst the turmoil of adolescence, it is the victory of such dark forces human nature that makes the 16-years-old introvert boy realize each person is alone with his enemy–something that is within the human heart–and not influenced by external circumstances.

Gene’s refusal to admit feelings of jealousy and insecurity is his real enemy projects his fear upon his best friend Phineas, whom he suspects of having envy and jealousy. This self-deception plunges him into a competitive spirit that transmutes his malicious thoughts into detrimental actions. The crucial elements worth preserving are his own survival and superiority. The desire to outsmart everyone else destroys any feeling of affection and friendship he might have had for his friend. When he realizes all Phineas offered him friendship and pure friendship only, he could only resort into self-loathing, which forever ingrains in his being.

“It would have been comfortable [to fight without knowing the cause or to dismiss the war as a mere joke], but I could not believe it. Because it seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.”

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22 Responses

  1. I need to read more American authors. This might be a good one to start with.

  2. I love this book! I read it years ago for an English class in high school but hadn’t thought of it for years. I’m glad you wrote a post about it.

  3. I don’t know this author at all. My problem for not keeping up with American literature as much as with English… Did you enjoy reading this?

  4. I’ve heard nothing but good stuff about this book. Must add it to my stacks!

  5. An amazing book. We read it for our little book group earlier this year. Nice post!

  6. Isabel:
    I’m the same way. After high school I can count the American authors I read with my hands. I’m reading another book with a similar theme by yet another American writer, William Maxwell, check him out as well.

    Thom and Seachanges:
    Thanks. It’s a wonderful read–a small book that teaches you a big lesson in life.

    Seachanges:
    I don’t know any modern English lit authors. Time stops at Dickens! 🙂

    Andi:
    You can squeeze this one in during your afternoon break. 🙂

    Greg:
    It surely tops my favorite list of reads this year. Something about these novels with academic/school setting that intrigue me so much.

  7. This is one of my favorite books we read in high school English class. I’ve often thought of reading it again. I’m told there’s gay subtext in it, but I don’t recall it. A good story is a good story, gay subtext or not…

  8. This book and The Catcher in the Rye have remained my favorites from high school days. I’m glad you’ve written about it since for many of us it’s an forgotten classics.

  9. […] Folded Leaf fits in the line with A Separate Peace (despite a gay subtext) that the story is built upon an academic setting, in an all-boys rooming […]

  10. Jef:
    Lots of gay subtext.

    “What’s that thing?”
    “This is a tablecloth,” he said out of the side of his mouth.
    “No, cut it out. What is it?”
    “This,” he then answered with some pride, “is going to be my emblem. Ma sent it up last week. Did you ever see stuff like this, and a color like this? It doesn’t even button all the way down. You have to pull it over your head, like this.”
    “Over your head? Pink! It makes you look like a fairy!”

    Peter:
    I thoroughly enjoyed both.

  11. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

  12. A Separate Peace has been one of my favorites this year. it sure does teach you something about life. Its amazing. Nice blog. :p

  13. Shanella:
    Welcome!
    It’s has taken a top 10 spot of mine after I read it this year. Now I’m about start Peace Breaks out.

  14. hello matthew….would you mind giving me your last name so i can give you some credit on my critical analysis due in english class on monday morning..if its not a big deal..i swear im not trying to set you up or sue you or anything i just see that your review connects with my critical analysis and for me to use it i need to do a work cited page and i have to give your first and last name

  15. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

  16. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

  17. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

  18. I can tell that this is not the first time at all that you mention this topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?

  19. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

  20. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

  21. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

  22. […] 1. Shadow without a Name, Ignacio Padilla 2. The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov 3. A Separate Peace, John Knowles 4. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky 5. Giovanni's Room, James Baldwin 6. The […]

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