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Enter the darkness
on June 12, 2000
In this darkly beautiful novel, John Knowles takes the reader on a journey, and it is no ordinary journey. 'A Separate Peace' plumbs the remote depths of the human heart--and it will take courage to face what is there.
This is, first and foremost, a character story. Gene and Finny are central to the plot, and to this end the author develops the characters with piercing clarity. Finny's genuineness sets him apart from his peers, Gene included, who tend to act more in accordance with the way they think would be acceptable to others, instead of what is acceptable to themselves. Finny follows his heart in all his ways, and his achievements are a reflection of his love for life. In contrast, Gene is repressed, his achievements based on what others believe to be important. As a result, they are of no importance to him, because he sees himself to be lacking that unique, genuine quality.
The friendship which develops between Gene and Finny is beautifully drawn, woven with skill into the mundanity of everyday existence. The tragic turn it takes sends the rest of the plot, though outwardly inocuous, hurtling toward disaster and a darkness beyond imagining. 'A Separate Peace' explores the evil in the human heart, using this tale of betrayal as a parallel to the war raging in the world at the same time. While this may invite comparison with 'Lord of the Flies', they are in fact extremely different. 'Lord of the Flies' contends that humans are evil by nature. In 'A Separate Peace', humanity is shown to have a dark side, the cause of tremendous horror and suffering. And yet, there is hope offered in this book for humanity. Evil is not the be-all and end-all of our existence. For even as Gene must confront the evil within himself, a light shines through: the genuine love he has for his friend. Which is why Finny wept at the end of the book--not for himself, but for the betrayal of that loyalty and love which he had always known existed.
This only scratches the surface of the depth to be found in this masterpiece. However, I don't recommend over-analyzing the metaphors and similies and whatnot. I read this book without a class or a teacher, did not learn the significance of the metaphors, and probably for this reason more than anything else, loved the book. For the teachers who disparage the book as 'too boring'--perhaps if you would try to see the book as something more than an exercise in metaphors, both you and your students would benefit. The true power of this book lies in its clear rendering of the immensity and the frailty of human nature, the many shadings of light and dark which together create a human being. In the author's own words, this book penetrates to "that level of feeling, deeper than thought, which contains the truth."