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Teachers, use this lesson plan to help guide your classes through John Knowles's award-winning novel, A Separate Peace. This lesson plan explores the motivations of the two central characters, Finny and Gene, as well as offering guidance in conveying Knowles's themes of guilt, innocence, and war. Examples of guided discussion and study questions from this lesson plan include the following:
- In A Separate Peace, why were the boys not punished for jumping out of the tree? It was summertime and wartime, and the school masters were a little more lenient than usual with the boys. Mostly, though, Finny had a gift of gab--a manner of speaking which made people like him and overlook his faults and transgressions.
- Over what did Gene and Phineas argue? They argued over whether or not Gene should study or go watch Leper Lepellier jump from the tree. At first Gene said he needed to study and that Leper wouldn't jump anyway. Phineas agreed that it would be okay if Gene wouldn't go. Then Gene immediately felt as if he had to go (and he did).
- "If you broke the rules, then they broke you." What did Gene mean? The boys in the summer session were not supposed to be jumping from the tree; it was against the rules. Gene figured that the tragedy with Phineas was their payment for breaking the rules.
- Why did Gene feel a sense of freedom when Phineas said, "Listen, pal, if I can't play sports, you're going to play them for me"? He feels forgiven by Phineas and given a way to make up for his meanness--and he feels he and Finny would be even closer friends from this point forward: ". . . this must have been my purpose from the start: to become a part of Phineas."
- How did Leper's illness affect Phineas? It made the war real, inescapable. He could no longer pretend there was no war. He realized that he would not be a part of it. He realized that he would not be a part of any physical contest.
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