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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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What does Finny's fall symbolize about sin and redemption in A Separate Peace?

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In A Separate Peace, Finny's fall is symbolic of the loss of the blissful summer that the boys have experienced before "the gray encroachments" of World War II come upon them. As an almost allegorical hero, Phineas provides the students and faculty alike something to believe in that is beyond the ordinary; Finny creates a "special America" for the boys at Devon where they play blitzball and the war seems far away.

Finny is the blythe spirit that represents the impulsive, imaginative nature of youth, the imagination that denies reality for the belief in the ideal. When he falls, others become disillusioned and misdirected, their innocence gone.  It is as though the boys have been sent from an Eden with its clear, clean Devon River to the mudded and sullied world where the Naguamsett River flows with its ugly, marshy waters. 

Without Finny's exuberance and ingenuousness directing the boys, Gene and the others realize that there is a real world, one that has sin in it.  Gene finally recognizes his sin of jealousy when none was needed, for Finny felt none towards him. Gene's redemption from his sins is effected by his epiphany, his moment of grace, when he becomes aware that his private evil has been generated by "something ignorant in the human heart." In short, Gene accepts human frailities along with the ideals, that tree with the broken limb.

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