Competition Between Gene And Phineas Essay, Research Paper
Often times between both the best of friends and the bitterest of enemies there is competition. It can be a friendly competition over some minor event or goal, or a ruthless quest between two rivals who will stop at nothing to be first to reach the pinnacle. In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Gene finds himself in a self-created competition with both himself and Phineas. Gene first is in competition with his own emotions and his loathing of Finny which conflicts with his friendship with Finny. Gene also is attempting to attain the position of Valedictorian and in his mind if he reaches this goal he would be not only Finny?s equal but actually better than him. The toughest of all for Gene, is how he is always competing to satisfy both his own academic expectations and Finny?s expectations of him.
Gene is a confused teenager, who does what he feels is the proper thing to do, though it isn?t what he really thinks deep inside of him. For example, when speaking of the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, Gene says,
At that time it would never have occurred to me to say, ?I don?t feel like it tonight,? which was the plain truth every night. I was subject to the dictates of my mind, which gave me the maneuverability of a straight jacket?I went without a thought of protest.
Here, Gene is acting out the feelings he holds on the surface, which is his friendship with Finny, even though he only loathes Finny even more for, in Gene?s opinion, a na?ve idea that Gene doesn?t ever need to study and can devote much of his time for the dumb antics and idea that Finny always has. Yet, Gene has had this mask up for so long, he almost is to the point that he doesn?t even notice when he makes these agreements that are conflicting with his true emotions. Later, after agreeing to go to the beach, he thinks to himself after Finny tells him that he is his best friend:
I should have told him then that he was my best friend also and rounded off what he had said. I started to; I nearly did. But something held me back. Perhaps I was stopped by that level of feeling, deeper than thought, which contains the truth.
Gene is stopped by that gut feeling that we all have, that inner conscience that tells us the truth. However, Gene is not able to do anything more than avoid what his true feelings are, never does express to Finny his true feelings, as Finny dies an unpredictable death. Gene is in competition between his loathing and a friendship that is almost unknown to him, and throughout his friendship with Finny he is wearing a mask that covers his true feeling and emotions.
Gene, who is very bright compared to Finny?s lackadaisical and careless approach to education, make what he thinks are two discoveries about being as good as Finny. He makes the first discovery while studying for the trigonometry test that he had missed because they had gone to beach:
What if I was [Valedictorian]? He had won and been proud to win the Galbraith Football Trophy and the Contact Sport Award… If I was head of the class on Graduation Day and made a speech and won the Ne Plus Ultra Scholastic Achievement Citation, then we would both have come out on top, we would be even, that was all????????? ?But you wouldn?t mind, would you?? I repeated?He gave me that half-smile of his??I?d kill myself out of jealous envy.? I believed him. The joking manner was a screen; I believed him.
This first ?discovery? that Gene makes, is a manifestation of his loathing of Finny. He has not been able to judge others character because he doesn?t know what his own character and identity is, and from this he makes these ludicrous and pathetic so called ?discoveries? that are only to so called ?get even? with his own friend. After Finny makes the second part of his statement about killing himself out of jealous envy, Gene thinks to himself again.
Then a second realization broke as clearly and bleakly as dawn at the beach. Finny had deliberately set out to wreck my studies. That explained the blitzball, that explained the nightly meetings of the Super Suicide Society, that explained his insistence that I share all his diversions??????? Sure he wanted to share everything with me, especially his procession of D?s in every subject. That way he, the great athlete, would be way ahead of me. It was all cold trickery, it was all calculated, it was all enmity.
This idea he presents here is his attempt to rationally explain why Finny does all the things with him that seem so ludicrous, thinking that Finny is really his friend. When really, Finny just enjoys having fun with Gene. After Finny falls out of the tree and Finny tells him that he didn?t think it was him that had caused the accident because friends wouldn?t do something like that, Gene thinks to himself, ?And I thought we were competitors! It was so ludicrous I wanted to cry.? Yet, this accident is too late to either bring out Gene?s true feelings or for Gene to make a true discovery that Finny had always been his friend and never was trying to compete with him. Rather, Finny likes to have fun and sees Gene as the best person to hang out with.
Gene, most importantly had to try to satisfy Finny?s somewhat crazy and outrageous expectations for someone like Gene who had his own academic expectations. In the very beginning when he is talking about jumping he thinks, ?But I always jumped. Otherwise I would have lost face with Phineas, and that would have been unthinkable.? His unwillingness to do what he wants even with the presence of fear is an obvious sign of how far Gene would go to still hold his ?friendship? with Finny. Later Finny proposes another idea that is also completely against Finny?s morals:
The beach was hours away by bicycle, forbidden, completely out of bounds. Going there risked expulsion, destroyed the studying I was going to do for an important test the next morning, blasted the reasonable amount of order I wanted to maintain in my life, and it also involved the kind of long, labored bicycle ride I hate. ?All right,? I said.
Again we see an example of how Gene thinks up all these negative things about going to the beach, yet he answers like he is going to enjoy it and couldn?t have thought up a better idea himself. Even after the accident, Gene still is lying to Finny. When he visits him Finny asks him, ? ?You aren?t going to start living by the rules, are you?? I grinned at him. ?Oh no, I wouldn?t do that,? and that was the most false thing, the biggest lie of all.? Gene still has not fully learned his lesson, even after the terrible accident, and requires a complete change in character that results from Finny?s death to lose the mask he had always worn. This competition of satisfying both expectations is toughest for Gene and it puts strain on Gene and reduces the focus he has on his education and on the relationship he had with Finny.
Gene throughout his relationship with Finny continues to believe that Finny secretly is competing with him, when really he is fighting an enemy that never shows itself on the battlefield. Again and again, we see examples where he clearly states in his mind that he is somehow in competition with Finny. One must know how to analyze oneself to analyze another, and decide what the other is thinking. Here we see that Gene is chronically suffering from his inability to do this, and continues to create these competitions that aren?t really there. Who knows whether Gene suffers from these misunderstandings and misconceptions because he is having problems figuring out who he is, what he wants from his relationship, whether or not he wants to have a relationship with an athlete, or combination of these?