A Separate Peace Questions and Answers
by John Knowles

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What is Gene Forrester's internal war in A Separate Peace?

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When discussing Gene Forrester's internal war, he thinks it centers around him versus his best friend Phineas; but it's really a matter of man vs. self. As a bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story) A Separate Peace explores many of the insecurities that face the average teenage boy. Gene suffers from jealousy, competitiveness, low self-esteem, pride and eventually guilt. The diagnosis?--a teenage boy.

Gene's internal war seems to manifest itself whenever he compares himself to Phineas. For example, Phineas breaks the school swimming record but Gene was the only witness for the event. Finny graciously asks Gene not to tell anyone about it, mostly because he doesn't care about swimming as a sport. But Gene can't imagine why someone as competitive and athletic would not want to tell the whole school. Eventually, Gene is so jealous that he gets in an argument with Phineas; but Gene realizes the following:

"I found a single sustaining thought. The thought was, You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity. You are both coldly driving ahead for yourselves alone. You did hate him for breaking the school swimming record, but so what? He hated you for getting an A in every course but one last term" (53).

Unfortunately for Gene, Phineas would not have had a second thought about Gene's grades if it weren't for the argument that Gene created. Gene figures this out later and thinks the following:

"He had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not of the same quality as he. I couldn't stand this" (59).

Gene's pride gets the best of him because he feels like such a fool by this point. And because he's competitive, Gene wants to make Finny look foolish for once in his life. Hence, he jounces the limb of a tree that Finny is standing on. As a result, Finny falls and breaks his leg so badly that doctors later tell him he will never play sports again.

Now Gene has to live with the guilt that his delusions have caused Phineas a life-long consequence--and guilt never does any good for a person's self-esteem. Guilt also fans the flame of a person's internal warfare. Gene must find a way to settle things with Finny and discover how he can become a better person and a better friend. If Gene finds a way to end the war within himself, he will find peace. Fortunately, in the end, Gene does find peace as he confesses to Phineas of all his misguided choices and for breaking his leg. He explains it best below:

"I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there" (204).

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