A Separate Peace: How would you explain to what degree someone like Finny tempts fate when he swims in the ocean, jumps from the tree, plays rough sports, rides without a helmet, and wants to join...

A Separate Peace: How would you explain to what degree someone like Finny tempts fate when he swims in the ocean, jumps from the tree, plays rough sports, rides without a helmet, and wants to join the army?

Asked on by lkehoe

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One critic writes of A Separate Peace:

A major premise of this novel is the necessity for the reconciliation of the two aspects of the mythic American male--half conservative intellectual, half noble savage, as one.

Phineas, of course, represents this noble savage, the young, vibrant male of insouciance who tests the limits of life in order to feel alive and vital. For Phineas, the world is contained at Devon School on the playing field, in the tree, in the river, in the snow. 

Phineas does, indeed, tempt fate in his wild, spontaneous acts. For, he often risks incurring an accident. More dangerous, however, is the fact that Phineas is also the eternal child in man, who does not consider well the consequences of actions because he has always been able to cajole the professors and others in authority whenever he breaks rules. Most of all, Phineas does not recognize his counterpart, his real adversary: the more conservative intellectual, in the form of Gene. For, it is Gene who admittedly has some private evil--“some ignorance inside me, some crazy thing . . . something blind"--that causes him to war against Finny. 

In his adventurous actions, Finny confronts his real enemy, not in nature, but in man who has "a careless resentment" against others, "something blind," which causes him to harm that which he perceives as an enemy. It is he who interrupts the afternoons of "momentary, illusory, special and separate peace," not Chance or Fate.

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