A Separate Peace: Three Symbols


The three dichotomous symbols in A Separate Peace by John Knowles
reinforce the innocence and evil of the main characters, Finny and Gene. Beside
the Devon School flow two rivers on opposite sides of the school, the Naguamsett
and the Devon. The Devon provides entertainment and happiness for Gene and
Finny as they jump from the tree into the river and hold initiations into the
Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. Finny, Gene, and their friends use
the Devon\'s warm water to play in during the carefree summer session. The Devon
brings out Finny\'s carefree character and personality when he jumps from the
limbs of the tree. Not one Upper Middler in Devon has ever jumped from the
tree; Finny becomes the first. After surfacing, Finny says that jumping from
the tree causes the most fun he has had in weeks. However, the Naguamsett and
the Devon completely contrast. When Gene and Finny emerge from the Devon, they
feel clean and refreshed. However, Gene describes the Naguamsett as "ugly,
saline, fringed with marsh, mud and seaweed" (68). When Gene starts a fight
with Quackenbush and falls into the Naguamsett because Quackenbush calls Gene "a
maimed son-of-a-bitch," Gene surfaces from the Naguamsett feeling grimy, dirty
and in desperate need of a bath (71). Much like the clean, refreshing water of
the Devon and the ugly saline water of the Naguamsett, Gene\'s carefree attitude
of the summer session vastly differs from the angry, confused attitude of the
winter session.
Likewise, the two sessions, the summer and winter, give a different
sense of feeling toward school and life at Devon School. The summer session
allows Finny to use his creativity. Finny invents blitzball and founds the
Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. The students let their carefree
attitudes flow during the summer. Finny and Gene willingly break the rules to
have fun during the summer by skipping class and going to the beach. Finny also
wears the school tie as a belt to the traditional term tea. Gene feels that
Finny cannot leave the room without being disciplined, but Finny manages to talk
his way out of the mess. However, the winter session causes a sense of
strictness. The sermons now exhort the thought of "what we owe Devon," but in
the summer the students think of "what Devon owes us" (65). The masters and
class leaders try to enforce continuity, but Gene realizes that resurrecting the
summer session becomes impossible. Finny is not in school, no longer shall the
students have their carefree attitudes, and the class officials and masters now
enforce the rules at Devon. Gene becomes like the winter session by saving a
cold blast for the enemy. The winter lives to destroy the warmth of the summer
and does so by unleashing an unpredictable frigid blizzard. Likewise, Gene
destroys Finny by releasing an uncontrolled jouncing of the tree limb.
Nevertheless, the peaceful time and the war time clearly display the
innocence of Finny and the evil of Gene. During the peaceful time, not one
student thinks about a war. Gene and Finny play blitzball and jump from the
tree, making them both happy. Finny willingly breaks the rules at Devon. Like
the summer session, the rules do not exist, and the student\'s minds run wild
with carelessness. Finny\'s imagination and creativity explode during the
peaceful time with inventions like blitzball and the founding of the Super
Suicide Society of the Summer Session. However, the war, like the winter
session, brings about confusion and hostility. Students like Leper and
Quackenbush begin thinking about enrolling in the army. Even Gene considers
enlisting until he realizes that Finny needs him. Finny cannot handle the
changes during the winter session. When Gene explains to Finny that a war is
occurring, Finny wonders, "Is there?" (96). Finny refuses to believe in the war
when Gene explains that the war comes before sports. Finny comes to the
conclusion that old fat men in Washingtion, D.C. "make up" the war to trick the
people, and only the fat men understand the trick. The two rivers, the two
sessions, and the two settings, reinforce and clearly display the innocence of
Finny and the evil of Gene.

Category: English