John Knowles

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					                  John Knowles
• Author of A Separate Peace
• Born in Fairmont, West
• At age 15, attended the
  Phillips Exeter Academy,
  New Hampshire, and
  graduated in 1945
• Joined the war effort as a part
  of the U.S. Army Air Force's
  Aviation Cadet Program
 What to “know” about Knowles
• With encouragement from novelist Thornton Wilder, who
  took interest in Knowles' writing, he started working on A
  Separate Peace, which became his first published novel.
• The author John Knowles, like his narrator Gene, was from
  the south (West Virginia, to be exact), and sent off to an
  uppercrust boarding school in New England for polish
  before university. However, unlike Gene, Knowles was no
  academic whiz at boarding school; he came close to
  flunking out of school, and was never the genius student
  that Gene is portrayed as being.
                  More to Knowles
• The novel A Separate Peace is a largely autobiographical work,
  drawing on Knowles' experience at Exeter to create the Devon school.
  Like Gene, Knowles attended a summer session at school to make up
  some classes; however, the year was 1943, not 1942, as it is in his
• Other than that, the summer session that Knowles describes in the
  book was very much akin to the summer session that he attended at
  Exeter. "We really did have a club whose members jumped from the
  branch of a very high tree into the river as initiation," Knowles has said
  of his book: "the only elements in A Separate Peace which were not in
  that summer were anger, envy, violence, and hatred." (ClassicNotes)
                 Major Characters
• Gene: The narrator of the book, a student
  at Devon during World War II. His best
  friend at school was Phineas, a superior
  athlete, while Gene was better known for
  his academic skills. Gene has a definite
  dark side lurking beneath the surface,
  though he appears to be a good, honest
  person in his everyday life. The book is
  spawned by a later visit to Devon, and of
  his strong memories and lingering feelings
   about what happened in 1942 at Devon.
Major Characters
     • Phineas: Gene's best friend and
       roommate, a remarkable athlete
       with a disregard for the rules
       and an innate ability to win
       people over. He gets Gene in
       quite a bit of trouble via his
       impulsive nature and instinctive
       disobedience, but he is very
       good at heart, and thinks the
       world of his best friend.
                  Major Characters
• Brinker Hadley: One of
  Gene's friends, Brinker is rather
  strange; he makes long-running
  jokes with rather sinister
  undertones, seems very
  independent and determined,
  and seems like he's his own
  person. He's a bit of a
  paradoxical character, and a
  kind of foil to the rebellious,
  free-spirited Finny.
Major Characters
        • Leper Lepellier: One of Gene
          and Finny's friends; he is a soft-
          spoken, nature-loving boy, with
          an old soul and ways that are
          quite idiosyncratic compared
          with the other boys. He is an
          avid skier and naturalist, but,
          rather uncharacteristically, he
          decides to enlist, and is the first
          boy from Devon to do so. He
          becomes, for a short while, the
          symbol of American victories
                 Major Themes
• Reflection: is central to the novel; the novel is spawned by
  a visit back to Gene's old school, and the work hinges upon
  a dialogue between the past and the present, and the
  relation of a man to his much younger self. Gene confesses
  that he is still stuck in the time of World War II; his
  memory still has a tremendous hold on him, as evidenced
  by his ability to recall the goings on of fifteen years' past
  with such detail. The presence of memory, and its role over
  time, is a major theme of this book; when Gene reiterates
  his thoughts on the past and on the lasting impact of the
  events he is describing, he only increases the importance of
  this theme within the novel.
                     Major Themes
• Reality vs. memory: Gene often shows how memory can be tinged by
  feelings that change how reality is perceived and recalled. This is
  especially evident when he looks for a tree by the river that has a
  special meaning to him. "It had loomed in my memory as a huge lone
  spike dominating the riverbank, forbidding as an artillery piece, high
  as a beanstalk," he says, his similes characterizing the tree as a great,
  forbidding mass (Knowles). Yet, when he sees it, he finds it
  "absolutely smaller, shrunken with age," and nothing like the great
  giant he had remembered. Perhaps the tree had actually shrunk since
  Gene's time; but this is a more apt example how things can be
  obscured or emphasized in the memory via emotional factors, and a
  good introduction of the theme of memory versus reality. Gene
  remembers his old campus in one way, yet when he visits, he finds it
  quite different; this happens often, as things can seem less imposing or
  important when revisited, yet be so huge in one's memory.
               Major Themes
• Rebellion vs. conformity: Gene and Finny are a
  great example of this theme in action; Gene is
  naturally a rule-abiding person, and Finny has an
  absolute disregard for rules. This difference is also
  represented in the differences between the summer
  session and the fall session. Finny himself
  embodies both of those, as he is able to fit in well
  enough at school, yet hold his own very eccentric
                     Major Themes
• Innocence vs. age: Gene tells of how they were children of "careless
  peace," set apart from adults by their lack of knowledge of the war,
  and their utter abandon to their own small, happy worlds.
  Lackadaisical activities of the happy, peace-enveloped juniors are
  juxtaposed with the semi-military drills that the seniors have to endure.
  Just as the war encroaches upon the boys at school, their adulthood
  also looms before them; Gene feels this especially, and this is one of
  the things that traumatizes Leper, being suddenly thrown into the
  world of adulthood. Throughout the novel, Gene notes the difference
  between his state 15 years after Devon, and his state while at the
  school; he notices differences between the way he is and the way he
  was, and how age has changed him all in all.
                  Major Themes
• Denial: Both Gene and Finny experience a great deal of
  denial in the novel, but of different types. Gene tries his
  best to deny that he hurt Finny, and that he has a dark
  streak in his nature that causes him to lash out at innocent
  people. Gene is a "savage underneath," as Leper tells him,
  and he never is able, not even 15 years later, to come to
  terms with this. Finny's denial is of his best friend causing
  his accident; he doesn't want it to be true, so he ignores it
  until Brinker's trial makes sure he cannot deny it anymore.
  Finny also denies the existence of the war as long as he
  can, and tries his best to use denial to construct his own
  kind of fantasy-world.
             Major Themes
• Conscience and guilt: These two haunt
  Gene especially; he feels a great deal of
  sorrow for what he did to Finny, yet he
  cannot face down his sense of responsibility
  and get rid of his guilt. Gene is not a bad
  person; he does have a conscience, and does
  feel remorse, but he cannot face the part of
  himself that is guilty of the accident.
                 Major Themes
• Gene and Finny as foils: Gene and Finny, however close
  they are, are very different and in many ways,
  complementary beings. Gene is academic, Finny is
  athletic; Gene is a hard worker, Finny is not; Gene follows
  the rules, and Finny breaks them; Gene heeds authority
  figures, Finny does his best to ignore them. The pair get
  along very well, but they seem to have little in common
  aside from their differences. The differences in their
  natures and in their reactions to Finny's accident and to the
  war show them as foils, as their differences, taken together,
  make a vivid portrait of two very different people.
                     Major Themes
• War and peace: Throughout Gene's schooling, war threatens to break
  in and destroy the fragile peace of the school. The summer session
  represents the height of peace, as nothing, except for Finny's accident,
  was able to interrupt the carefree joy of those days. But, as the fall
  session begins, war slowly begins to encroach on the boys; they start
  their "physical hardening" at the school, recruitment officers start to
  come around, and the boys begin to talk about enlistment and the draft.
  The divide between peace and war is also representative of the gap
  between childhood and adulthood; while peace holds out, the boys are
  free to be oblivious of the outside world, and are weighed down by
  nothing. But, when they are finally confronted by the war, they have to
  grow up; the strain changes them from children into adults, and
  obliterates the peace of their youth.
                       Major Themes
Appearance vs. reality:
  This book is made up of "Gene's" recollections, meaning that the content,
  events, and characters are all filtered through his individual point of view.
  This theme is especially notable in Gene's characterizations of himself, and of
  Finny. Gene tries to present himself as a rule-abiding, nice kind of person;
  however, as we see from the events in the book, he is sometimes spiteful,
  jealous, and has quite a temper when he is stirred up. Gene is not a totally
  good person, as no one who intentionally injures his best friend and then tries
  to cover up the truth would be. However, Gene would be hard pressed to admit
  this, and tries to avoid the subject of his "savage" underpinning. Gene also
  represents Finny as a happy-go-lucky sort who has been through few problems
  and has no inner struggles. Even after Finny's accident, Gene insists that Finny
  has never been conflicted‹after Finny has tried so hard to avoid implicating his
  friend despite his anger and bitterness. Finny is far more complex, as we find
  out at the end, than Gene would like to believe him to be; and as Gene finds
  out, what is on the surface sometimes does not denote what is hidden
                 Major Themes
• Change under crisis: Many of the boys in the
  book‹including Leper, Gene, and Finny‹are forced to
  change when they come upon some sort of crisis situation,
  or some test of their characters. Under the duress of having
  entered the military, Leper loses his quiet innocence and
  becomes confused and angry. Finny's happiness and peace
  are shattered by Gene's hurtful actions against him, and
  Gene becomes a better, more forgiving person because of
  his friend's injuries. As Gene says, all of the boys at the
  school will change when they discover some oppressive,
  overwhelming force in the world; change is inevitable, as
  the boys in the book discover for themselves.
             Works Cited

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