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Patrick McCrystal

Novel paper
Due 12/15
John Knowles’ novel, A Separate Peace, is full of themes and aspects that may be
somewhat elusive for the reader who fails to scrutinize it thoroughly. This is evident in
the showcasing of three philosophies; idealism, realism, and isolationism, through the
characters Phineas, Brinker, and Gene. Not all people fall into these three categories, but
they all play major roles in the story, which lays the foundation of the conflict.
Phineas is truly an idealist at heart. Until he breaks his leg, the world is Finny’s
giant playground and life is the game he excels at. He then starts to see everything much
differently after his fall from grace. He seems akin to a veteran of the Korean war who
never quite got over the guerrilla warfare, seeing everything covertly. He goes through a
sort of metamorphosis to a viewpoint similar to Brinker’s. Finny even has the nerve on
page 106 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?" Finny then has his second, lethal fall,
and it was only accelerated by his mental façade.
Brinker Hadley is realistic about the world. He develops a distinctly morbid
outlook on life after Gene decides not to conform to his enlistment plan, partially due to
Phineas returning to school. Brinker attempts to take everything as he sees it, but then
starts to think that what he’s seeing is bad. He says on page 122, "Frankly, I just don't
see anything to celebrate, winter or spring or anything else." Brinker looks to find the
dark side of things, because he believes that everything has at least one viewpoint of a
sinister nature. Brinker is the dynamite that triggers the thunderous explosion of the
At last, we come to Gene, the paranoid isolationist. Right from the beginning of
the story, Gene takes an ascetic stance. Gene sees a threat in everything he attaches
himself to. If he gets evidence of that danger, he attempts to disassociate himself from
whatever it is. There are also instances where he cannot see the danger, as with Phineas,
so he creates it himself. He works so hard on creating his own world of rivalry and
enmity that on page 45 he falsely comes to the conclusion that "Finny had deliberately set
out to wreck my studies." His paranoia is so extreme that it fuels his impulsive act of
malevolence, which is jostling the limb of the tree so Finny falls to the ground.
Brinker, Gene, and Phineas fit together like a puzzle to make an intriguing
venture into loss, war, and friendship. Yet, John Knowles knew what he was doing when
he gave each character their specific qualities, and that was structuring the annihilation of
a separate peace.