Artificial Vs. Natural In A Separate Peace Essay

This essay has a total of 1863 words and 6 pages.

Artificial Vs. Natural In A Separate Peace

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
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