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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles
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Explain how the writer suggests Finny’s thoughts and feelings in this passage from A Separate Peace: "Although he was rarely conscious of it, Phineas was always being watched, like the weather. Up the field, the others at badminton sensed a shift in the wind; their voices carried down to us, calling us. When we didn't come, they began gradually to come down to us. 'I think it's about time we started to get a little exercise around here, don't you?' he said, cocking his head at me."

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In this passage from A Separate Peace, Finny is treating Gene as part of a collective self, the “us” which is standing below the other boys, but he is also extending that group membership to the other boys by referring to them all as “we.” Finny uses a rhetorical question as a muted command to Gene. He suggests that he is asking for his opinion of whether or not to exercise; really, he is telling him that they will be working out. He also uses understatement, calling it “a little exercise” when he means a challenging regimen.

Early in the passage, the author builds up to this statement that Finny makes. Gene, the narrator, analyzes Finny. He conveys that Finny is not a self-aware person but understands his innate leadership qualities. The other boys pay attention to what he does and says. Gene considers Finny powerful, a force of nature “like the weather.” While he and Finny are standing apart as the other boys play badminton, they passively resist the other boys's calls. They do not go to the players. Instead, they choose to make the others come to them.

Knowles also uses the literary devices of alliteration and consonance to emphasize the association with the weather and to suggest the way that the sounds carry. He uses many words that begin with or include the "w" sound: “was always being watched,” “weather,” “wind, and “we.” This repetition creates a continuity of sound and increases the reader’s sense that the words are traveling naturally. This identification of nature with Finny makes it seem like the traits Gene imparts or projects to him are actual fact.

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