A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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To what extent does Knowles make the reader sympathise with Gene While he is in the butt room?

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Nestor Streich eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One of the ways in which Knowles makes the reader sympathize with Gene is by having him caught off guard by the accusations levied against him. Although Gene has thus far been unable to admit to himself that he intentionally caused Finny’s accident, he is (and we, the readers, are) aware of a hint of guilt that he is starting to feel. Gene’s creeping realization that his own dark jealousy may be responsible for Finny’s accident, and the guilt that he is feeling, makes him less of a monster to us and more human. This allows us to not hate Gene but to almost feel pity him and his demons. When he goes down to the Butt room to have a cigarette, Brinker suddenly makes Finny’s accident the focus of the room—in particular Gene’s role in it. Gene is caught off guard and is fighting his own inner battle while trying to deflect attention from himself. He deflects what has become an interrogation by his curious classmates by embracing the role of the villain and getting into character. He pretends as though it is obvious that he caused the accident, and in a flamboyant manner, he describes all the ways he may have done it. He singles out his questioners and embarrasses them, and we are relieved when the group does not suspect him of his crime but laughs with him. Even though we know that what Gene has done is wrong, we can’t help but feel conflicted about his fate, as we understand his motives as well as his regret; it isn’t hard to imagine that his error was made in a split second that he would take back if he could.

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