Good Versus Evil: Wars in A Separate Peace John Knowles novel, A Separate Peace, portrays wars on three distinct levels. These levels could be described as outer, inner, and world. There is a very good definition of these wars at the closing of the novel which shows us the levels: “I could never agree with either of them. It would have been comfortable, 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.” (page 193) This passage shows that wars go on around the world, all the time people are battling a never-ending fight. Not necessarily battles like World War II or even a common street fight or family feud, but battles with mind and emotion that everyone must deal with.
One such battle is that in which Gene deals with throughout the book, the battles with Finny. We learn as the story begins that Gene and Finny are best friends. They go almost everywhere together and they even share a room at their school. We enter the story at what is called a “summer session” which could be described as today’s equivalent of summer school. But, as the story unfolds, we are forced to ask ourselves, are they friends as the appear to be at the start of the novel or are they mortal enemies as Gene begins to hint with this quote at the point Gene thinks Finny is finally going to “get away” with something he did.
“This time he wasn’t going to get away with it. I could feel myself becoming unexpectedly excited at that.”(page 20) This shows us that even though they are friends, Gene feels that Finny is too perfect and he needs to see a sign that he is human, that he is not the super-popular “benevolent” kid everyone else thinks he is. “He had gotten away with everything. I felt a sudden stab of disappointment.”(page 21) Finny, like usual had finally gotten himself out of a seemingly “sure catch.” Later on in the novel, Gene’s inner torment finally gets the best of him. “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 and instant with extreme interest, and then he tumbled sideways, broke through the little branches below and hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud. It was the first clumsy physical action I had ever seen him make. With unthinking sureness I moved out on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of my fear gone.”(page 52) It is this out of character action by Gene which starts the second type of war in the novel, Gene’s “inner war.” At this point, all of Gene’s feelings of hatred and despise for Finny are all manifested in that single action. At the point when Gene says, “I … jumped into the river, every trace of my fear gone,” it shows us that when Finny fell to the ground and did something that wouldn’t make him popular with the other kids, most of Gene’s emotions calmed down and there was a great weight lifted from him. Although at the moment everything seemed returning to a norm, when it was discovered that Finny’s leg had been broken, Gene began his inner battles with guilt. The pressure of knowing he did something so terribly wrong was beyond his control as a young man. If the other student’s or teachers found out what he had done, they would do more than punish him. They would make him an outcast. Not only did he do this horrendous thing on purpose, but he also would have waited to tell them long after the point it was decided that Finny had just had an accident. Although later in the novel, Elwin “Leper” Lepellier accuses Gene of “jouncing the limb,”(page 137) Gene never tells the truth, even to Finny himself. Finny and the others “interrogate” Gene if he saw what happened that terrible day, but Gene just scoffs and forgets they asked (page162). The inner torment that continues when Gene finds out he destroyed Finny’s dream of fighting in the war(page 182), the pain rises inside of him and the guilt begins to win his war. When Gene and Finny discuss the accident after Finny breaks his leg the second time, and Gene admits to what he had done, Finny naturally feels betrayed and very angry. This settles down the guilt inside of Gene and he decides to regain the lost friendship between them. But, alas, Finny dies and Gene’s guilt rages on. The third and final type of war that is described throughout the novel is the largest scale war, a world war. In this case, World War II. Although it is being fought far away from where they are, they try to inveigle themselves and ingratiate themselves into The Cause. All they want to do is help in any way they can. Although Finny denies there even is a war(because he can’t be in it), all the others at Devon still want to support their boys overseas. The war affects everyone in and around Devon in that a lot of the boys that we read about in the novel will be going to war in the next year. The only one we see who was affected by the war in the biggest way is Leper, although we know that Brinker also fought, who returns from fighting with some “problems.” He seems to have lost his mind and tells Gene some of the things that did it to him. “-the idea of his face on a woman’s body. That’s what made me psycho. Ideas like that. I don’t know. I guess they must be right. I guess I am psycho. I guess I must be. Did you ever have ideas like that? … Would they bother you if you did, if you happened to keep imagining a man’s head on a woman’s body, or if sometimes the arm of a chair turned into a human arm if you looked at it too long, things like that? Would they bother you?”(page 140-1) We know through history lessons the horrors of the Second World War, but we don’t know about how the terrors affected young men the ages of Gene, Finny, and their friends. We continue from there to learn that in Chapter 13, the army takes control of Devon. This action brings the war right home and the boys get a look first-hand at who they are supporting. Inner, outer, and world are all the scales of war that John Knowles describes for us. These are all types of war that we live with everyday. Although ours do not end as tragically as the ones in A Separate Peace, they do end, nonetheless. We learn that finally in the end, all three of these wars are resolved. The World War ended in 1946 with the Allies as victors and the Axis powers forever vanquished. We learn that with Finny’s death, his outer war with Gene finally ends. But, the death enhances Gene’s inner war which doesn’t end until 15 years after when Gene returns to the place where it all began, Devon. We finally reach an end to the wars and gain three separate peaces. These three pieces that make John Knowles wonderful vision a whole