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One of the primary themes in the novel is the loss of innocence. It is developed through each of the four characters: Finny, Gene, Leper, and Brinker. Each boy is far different at the end of the school year than he was in the summer of 1942, when the story as Gene remembers it begins. Each one of them loses their youthful innocence as he deals with the reality of the war that is approaching. Gene, of course, deals with two wars--World War II and his own internal struggles to deal with his insecurity. The Winter Carnival plays an important part in the development of this theme. It serves as a brief escape from what has become their reality. For a little while, they can be boys again. Symbolically, it ends when the telegram arrives from Leper, and they are jolted back into reality.
I am going to assume you are interested in a statement that expresses the theme of this wonderful book. Are you struggling to decide what the theme of the book is? If you are, you are not alone, because there are many themes in the book, and you will need to decide which one you prefer to write about and support. Support is really the key to this assignment. Whatever theme you decide to write about, you will have to use parts of the book as evidence to support your idea.
This novel is often called a "coming of age" novel. You may have heard that term before. It refers to a common theme in literature, the struggle to mature. What is there in the story to support that idea? Another theme in the novel is that of envy and the damage it can do. What are Gene's thoughts and feelings about Finney that show this as a theme? Still another important theme in the novel is the war, which is almost like a character in the novel. What does war do to young people, sometimes even before they have a chance to become soldiers? Is the war connected at all to the coming of age theme?
Those are just three ideas that you can support for your assignment. When you write a statement about the theme you choose, remember to write a statement that you can support with evidence from the book.
I hope this helps. Good luck!
Perhaps you would like to draw parallels between the war that is going on in the 1940s and the private wars of the main characters. These struggles of the characters are fought in their hearts against the background of World War II. Gene's struggle to find his "separate peace," a growth from tragedy. is central to the novel. In a line from Chapter 13, Gene expresses his thoughts on war:
Because it seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.
It is something "ignorant in his heart" that causes Gene to jump on the tree limb, sending Finny crashing to the earth below. It is something "ignorant in the heart" that causes the sense of rivalry in Gene. The influences of 1942 pull Gene and Phineas apart.
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