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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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The significance and symbolism of sports, especially Blitzball, in A Separate Peace


In A Separate Peace, sports, particularly Blitzball, symbolize the characters' internal conflicts and the competitive nature of adolescence. Blitzball, invented by Finny, reflects his charisma and leadership while highlighting Gene's insecurities and envy. The game represents the struggle for identity and the impact of rivalry on friendships during the turbulent years of youth.

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What does Blitzball symbolize in A Separate Peace?

Gene narrates in Chapter 2 of A Separate Peace that he and the other boys have spent the summer of 1942 in "complete selfishness" as they have ignored what was happening in the European theatre of war. Then in Chapter 3, after Finny expresses his disgust with the innocuous, soft games finds a medicine ball and declares, "All you really need is a round ball," as he urges the other boys to get "a little exercise now." Further, he suggests that they create a game, and Bobby Zane suggests that the game have something to do with the war such as blitzkrieg, a sudden, overwhelming attack--a tactic used by the Germans.  Having heard Bobby, Finny tosses the word around and decides to create a game called "blitzball."  In this game each player is the enemy of all the others; so, when someone is vulnerable, everyone surrounds him and knocks him down.

Gene reflects that no one can play Blitzball as it played by Phineas, whose athleticism is so superior to that of others:

...he created reverses and deceptions and acts of sheer mass hypnotism which were so extraordinary that they surprised even him; after some of these plays I would notice him chuckling quietly to himself.

Finny has created his own blitzkrieg, his own sudden attack in "complete selfishness" upon the realities of war, halting it at Devon School where there is "a separate peace" in the summer of 1942.

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In A Separate Peace, what is the significance of sports, especially blitzball?

Sports are a point of contention in Gene and Finny's relationship. Gene continually describes Finny's incredible physical prowess, in addition to naming various trophies Finny has won for his athletic skill. Gene, on the other hand, mortifies Finny by only achieving the post of assistant manager for the rowing team. Gene states that he doesn't really enjoy sports, and often only plays for Finny's sake. Gene also feels (at least at one point-he's not a reliable narrator) that Finny is out to destroy him, and sees sports as Finny's way to distract Gene from his studies, causing his grades to slip. This is actually the motivation for Gene pushing Finny from the tree.

Finny's invention of blitzball highlights the dynamics of his relationship with Gene, as well as Finny's own innocent nature. He creates a game simply for the love of sport, changes the rules when it suits him, and seems to be genuinely content watching others enjoy themselves as well. He is the altruistic character in the novel, giving and never asking in return. Gene, on the other hand, is thrown off-guard by the game of blitzball. He is confused by the constant changing of the rules, and ends with a feeling of frustration, which is later directed against Finny himself.  This is how their relationship develops as well.

One last note-the name of the game underscores the reality of WWII for the boys. Finny scorns the war before his accident, but later tries to join the military, almost seeking validation of his usefulness. Here though, the name "blitzball" suggests that Finny still sees the war as unreal, something beyond the walls of Devon, something that cannot touch the students. Thus, he makes a game of it.

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