What theme best represents the personality of Gene Forrester, in "A Separate Peace"?"A Separate Peace" by John Knowles

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme that best represents the personality of Gene in "A Separate Peace" is the theme of Guilt and Innocence.  A thirty-something Gene Forrester returns to Devon to wrestle with demons and to understand the significance of what has happened in the summer of 1942, and he narrates his confession, his finding of a separate peace.  The author John Knowles has written this of his novel:

[it is] one long, abject confession, a mea culpa, a tale of crime--if a crime has been committed--and of no punishment.  It is a story of growth through tragedy.

After Gene shakes the tree limb that causes Finny to shatter his leg because he is so jealous of Finny's athletic ability and popularity, he spends the rest of his time at Devon trying to make amendments to Finny such as helping to organize the winter carnival.  He reflects upon his guilt:

He [Phineas] possessed an extra vigor, a heightened confidence in himself, a serene capacity for affection which saved him.  Nothing as he was growing up at home, nothing at Devon, nothing even about the war had broken his harmonious and natural unity.  So at last I had....[In the war] 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.

Gene states that the memory of Phineas is ever present with him, and he keeps this memory as a guidebook by which he nows lives. 

During the time I was with him, Phineas created an atmosphere in which I continued now to live, a way of sizing up the world with erratic and entirely personal reservations....accepting only a little at a time, only as much as he could assimilate without a sense of chaos and loss.


tpisano eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gene Forrester is a great character.  He is the narrator of "A Seperate Peace".  He is generally good and honest, but is flawed.   He is very scholarly, dependable, and mature.  He is also a very deep thinker who spends a lot of time analyzing himself and the world around him.  However, he acts out of jealousy at times, and is competetive and insecure (this is seen best with Finny).

One evening at a meeting of the "Super Suicide Society" Gene purposefully shakes the tree limbs causing Finny to fall.  Finny becomes crippled in this accident.  He represents man's unfailing inhumanity toward his fellow man. 


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A Separate Peace

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