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Knowles’ Separate Peace Essays: Character Traits S

eparate Peace EssaysCharacter Traits in A Separate Peace
In the book A Separate Peace by John Knowles, one of the
main themes is the effects of realism, idealism, and isolationism on
Brinker, Phineas, and Gene. Though not everyone can be described
using one of these approaches to life, the approaches
completely conform to these characters to create one realist, one idealist,
and one isolationist; thereby providing the foundation of the novel.
The realist is Brinker. Brinker’s realism takes on a very morbid
quality after Gene decides not to enlist with him, do to Phineas’s
return to Devon. Brinker still sees everything the way it is, but
begins to think that the way it is, is bad. On page 122, he is quoted
as saying, “Frankly, I just don’t see anything
to celebrate, winter or spring or anything else.” Brinker will scrutinize
any incident until he finds a dark side to it, because, in his mind, at least
one side of everything is a dark side. Already we have the footing for our
climax.
Phineas (Finny) is the idealist. Like Brinker, Finny’s approach
experiences a grim metamorphoses. Before his accident, Finny sees
the world as a glorious playing field and life as a never ending game.
After his accident; however, Finny begins to view the world through
the eyes of a paranoid old man who is always seeing something
covert in everything. On page 106, Finny even goes as far
as to ask Gene, “Do you really think that the United States of America is
in a state of war with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?” This outlook
is a mental facade that only succeeds in setting Finny up for a harder
fall.
Finally there is the isolationist, Gene. Gene’s approach is
austere from the beginning. It is Gene who generates the dark
change in the others. Gene looks for danger in everything he is
emotionally close to. When he finds danger, he ostracizes
himself from whatever it is that is posing a threat to him. If he can not
find danger, as with Finny, he creates it. On page 45 he strives so hard
to create danger in Finny that he falsely concludes that, “Finny had
deliberately set out to wreck my studies.” This creates the story’s
main conflict and brings about Gene’s spontaneous act of pure evil
that haunts him and the reader throughout the remainder of the book.
These characters and these approaches
to life fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to create an intriguing
heart, wrenching tragedy about friendship, war, and loss. These pieces did
not just happen to fall into place. The author knew exactly what he was
doing when he assigned these traits to these characters. He was
building the destructionof a separate peace.