What does Knowles's writing make you feel about Phineas in A Separate Peace?

In A Separate Peace, Knowles's writing makes the reader feel that Phineas, or "Finny," is a star athlete, scholar, and one of the more popular boys at Devon. He comes across as a charismatic, affable, and gentle-hearted young man, whose privilege bearing and easygoing manner distinguish him as outstanding. Knowles further presents Finny more two-dimensionally than the other characters, not giving the reader many background details or much insight into Finny's inner life.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Despite being the only main character whose last name is not given, Finny's character embodies the symbolic essence of the Eden-like Devon School in his innocence, excellence, and virtue. Knowles presents him as an almost Christ-like figure whose accidental death serves as the catalyst for Finny's psychic foil and Gene's moral redemption and life-altering epiphany, upon which Gene looks back in the novel's framing narrative.

Unlike the reflective and conflicted Gene, Finny is defined by his spontaneity, fearlessness and absence of doubt. In this way, Finny is a kind of twentieth-century Tom Sawyer, whose charisma and undaunted optimism contrast with Gene's Huck Finn-like brooding conscience and calculating mind. Knowles presents Finny as a "big-man on campus" and born leader, who is still a humble and unaffected friend to all and whose prowess on the athletic field and in the classroom seem to come easily and naturally to him.

As a native Bostonian, it is implied that Finny is a scion of the old-money New England elite, and thus his inherited privilege informs his confidence and free-spiritedness. One of the main themes of the novel is the impossibility of preserving the innocence of America's passionate, vigorous, and idealistic youth in an era of war. Even though Finny dies without being able to fulfill his ardent wish to fight for his country, he represents the best of his own lost generation's potential.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial