Artificial Vs Natural In A Seperate Peace

Artificial Vs. Natural In A Seperate Peace Essay, Research Paper

Someone once said that being yourself,

being who you are, is a successful rebellion. Gene Forrester, one of the

main characters in John Knowles’s novel, A Separate Peace should have taken

this advice. Throughout the novel, Gene acted artificially, disguising

his true self. He lived in fear of people finding out what he was really

like. Phineas, Gene’s best friend and the other main character in this

novel, on the other hand, acted naturally around people. He was not afraid

of people seeing who he really was. In John Knowles’s novel, A Separate

Peace, Gene acted artificially, while Phineas acted naturally.

To begin with, Gene Forrester acted artificially.

There are several instances throughout the novel where Gene disguises himself

or is influenced by artificial things. Towards the beginning of the novel

Gene tells the reader that he was a half inch taller than Finny (”I had

been claiming five feet nine inches before he became my roommate…” (Gene

Pg. 8) and that Finny weighed ten pounds more than he did. “He weighed

a hundred and fifty pounds, a galling ten pounds more than I did…” (Gene

Pg. 8) Because Gene mentioned those facts, the reader can tell that even

having a slight height and weight advantage or disadvantage to Finny were

important to him. What people, especially Finny, thought about him worried

him. “…I would have lost face with Phineas, and that would have been

unthinkable.” (Gene Pg. 26) Later in the novel, when Finny wanted to wear

a pink shirt to school, Gene told him it would make him look like a “fairy”.

“Pink! It makes you look like a fairy!’ (Gene Pg. 17) Gene knew that people

might question Finny’s masculinity and ridicule him so he spoke up. Gene

would have never taken such a risk as wearing a pink shirt because it was

not socially acceptable at Devon School. This again points out Gene’s obsession

with what people thought of him. Gene had a cautious, competitive nature

and let grades and trying to outdo Finny run his life. When Finny broke

the school’s swimming record, Gene did not understand why he did not want

people to know about it. “The worst thing is that there weren’t any witnesses.

Tomorrow. We’ll get the coach here, and all the official timekeepers, and

I’ll call up the Devonian and send a reporter and a photographer-…Not

say anything about it! When you broke the school record!” (Gene Pg. 36)

Gene would have wanted awards and praise for breaking a school record which

shows again how highly he values artificial things. Grades also played

an important part in Gene’s life and he measured himself by what his class

rank was. He pretended to not care about his studies, but Finny saw right

through him. “Don’t give me that line…You want to be head of the class,

valedictorian, so you can make a speech on Graduation Day…I know you.”

(Finny Pg. 43) Later on, Finny convinces Gene to go to the beach with him.

While Finny runs and frolics in the water, having a good time, enjoying

nature, Gene only worries about what time it is and whether he will be

able to pass his exam. “I looked at the sky and the ocean and knew it was

around six-thirty. The ride back to Devon would take three hours at least.

My important test, trigonometry, was going to be held at ten o’clock.”

(Gene Pg. 42) This is just another example of how time, schedules, and

grades play an important part in Gene’s life. While at the beach, Finny

tells Gene that he is his “best pal”. Gene does not reply and tell him

that he is his best pal, but instead, keeps quiet. Instead of being completely

honest and open with Finny, Gene chooses to mask his true emotions. He

knew if someone ever found out about him saying something like that, that

it would be “the next thing to suicide”. (Gene Pg. 40) This obsession with

grades and other unnatural things leads Gene to believe that there is an

intense competition going on between himself and Finny. He convinces himself

that they are “even in enmity”. (Gene Pg. 46) He feels nervous about all

the influence Finny has over him and is suspicious about Finny always taking

him away from his studies. “Finny had deliberately set out to ruin my studies…it

was all cold trickery, it was all calculated, it was all enmity.” (Gene

Pg. 45) From that point on, Gene becomes “quite the student” in an attempt

“to come out even” with Finny. Gene desired to be like Finny so much that

on one occasion in the novel, he put Finny’s clothes on. “I was Phineas,

Phineas to the life…I had no idea why this gave me such relief, standing

there is Finny’s triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the

confusions of my own character again.” (Gene Pg. 54) Gene felt “intense

relief” when he felt like he was Finny. This was because Gene was not satisfied

with who he was and wanted to be like Finny so desperately. As one can

see, Gene acted artificially throughout the novel, and let grades, people,

and “fake” things influence him.

In John Knowles’s novel A Separate Peace,

Finny, unlike Gene, acts naturally. Everything from Finny’s appearance

to his walk to his personality is natural and spontaneous. Finny was described

as “… an extraordinary athlete, he was not spectacularly built…five

feet eight and a half inches…a hundred and fifty pounds,…which flowed

from his legs to torso around shoulders to arms and full strong neck in

an uninterrupted unity of strength.” (Gene Pg. 8) From this description,

one can tell that Finny is very “natural-looking”. His walk, which can

be described as ” a continuous flowing balance, so that he had seemed to

drift along with no effort at all, relaxation on the move.”, (Gene Pg.

103) was also very natural. Finny’s personality was very outgoing, fun,

and innocent. He was not affected by what others thought of him, but rather

wondered what people would think of him if he pulled outrageous stunts.

When Gene told him that he would look like a “fairy” if he wore a pink

shirt to school, Finny did it anyway. “Does it? I wonder what would happen

if I looked like a fairy to everyone…in case suitors come clamoring at

the door, you can tell them I’m wearing this as an emblem.” (Finny Pg 18)

“He did wear it. No one else in the school could have done so without some

risk of having it torn from his back.” (Gene Pg. 18) He was able to be

sincere with people and let them see who he really was. “Everything he

said was true and sincere; Finny always said what he happened to be thinking,

and if this stunned people then he was surprised.” (Gene Pg. 16) Finny

was the best athlete in the school, but what made him so natural is the

fact that he did it out of pure enjoyment for the sport and not for the

awards and praise that came with it. When he broke the school swimming

record, he did not want anyone to find out about it. “By the way…we aren’t

going to talk about this. It’s just between you and me. Don’t say anything

about it, to…anyone.” (Finny Pg. 36) He didn’t want attention, he just

wanted to see is he could break the record. Finny believed that : “Everyone

always won at sports. When you played a game, you won, in the same way

as when you sat down to a meal you ate it. It inevitably and naturally

followed.” (Gene pg. 27) “Finny never permitted himself to realize that

when you won, they lost. That would have destroyed the perfect beauty which

was sport. Nothing bad ever happened in sports; they were the absolute

good.” (Gene Pg. 27) Finny’s attitude towards sports is similar to his

personality as a whole. He was innocent and never caused anyone harm purposely

and believed everyone was the same way. When he told Gene that he wanted

to participate in the war, Gene replied by saying: …You’d be sitting

at one of their command posts, teaching them English. Yes, you’d get confused

and borrow one of their uniforms, and you’d lend them one of yours…You’d

get things so scrambled up nobody would know how to fight any more. You’d

make a mess, a terrible mess, Finny, out of the war.” (Gene Pg. 182) Gene

knew what kind of person Finny was and knew that he was not cut out for

the war. Being the natural person that he was, he enjoyed nature and ran

around and frolicked while at the beach with Gene. “This kind of sunshine

and ocean, with the accumulating roar of surf and the salt, adventurous,

flirting wind from the sea, always intoxicated Phineas. He was everywhere.

He enjoyed himself hugely, he laughed out loud at passing sea gulls. And

he did everything he could think of for me.” (Gene Pg. 39) He had honest.

open relationships with people, and unlike Gene, was not afraid of what

people thought of him. He told Gene he was his “best pal”, knowing that

“…exposing a sincere emotion nakedly like that at Devon School was the

next thing to suicide” (Gene Pg. 40). He had “tremendous loyalty to the

class, as he did to any group he belonged to, beginning with him and me

and radiating outward towards spirits and clouds and stars.’ (Gene Pg.

34) He created Blitzball, a game which “brought his own athletic gifts

to their highest pitch”. (Gene Pg. 31) He had a desire to do good mixed

in with a disregard for the rules. He could talk himself out of any situation

and was described by Gene as being able to “shine”. After realizing that

he had been wrong about the competition between himself and Finny, Gene

came to the conclusion that “Only Phineas was never afraid, only Phineas

never hated anyone…all of them, except Phineas, constructed at infinite

cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against the enemy…” (Gene Pg.


In John Knowles’s novel, A Separate Peace,

Finny acts naturally, while Gene acts artificially. Gene disguises himself

and is constantly worried about people’s opinions of him. His obsession

with grades and outdoing Finny causes him to believe that they are in competition.

Finny, on the other hand, is spontaneous, innocent, and natural. He does

not worry about praise or awards, but instead plays sports for pure enjoyment,

and has honest, open relationships with people. Both Finny and Gene are

very alike physically, but emotionally and mentally, they are as different

as two people can be.


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