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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Student Question

What is the resolution in A Separate Peace by John Knowles?

Quick answer:

Gene ends up finishing his education, studying forestry. He tours the country after being transferred from one department to another. There is no mention of Gene being shipped overseas to fight in the war, but there are hints at the end that he may go into politics and make a difference there.

Expert Answers

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The resolution of a story is the final outcome after a conflict. There are two main conflicts facing the protagonist, Gene Forrester: coming to terms about himself regarding his friendship with Phineas and going into the war after graduation. Each student of the graduating class of 1942 knows that he will either be drafted or enlist at the end of the school year and wind up fighting overseas somewhere. But for Gene, he must face a different enemy before going to war; he must face the fact that he broke Finny's leg during a moment of jealous rage, which ruins his best friend's sports and war careers. Therefore, the resolution must tell the reader how Gene comes to terms with himself and Phineas; and, it must tell where everyone ends up after graduation.

Gene first tries to apologize and admit responsibility to Phineas for breaking his leg before the fall semester starts, but Finny doesn't believe Gene did it on purpose. There is no closure in the matter until after Phineas breaks his leg a second time at the end of Chapter 11. In fact, the boys discuss how Gene broke Finny's leg in Chapter 12. Phineas asks Gene the following:

"It was just some kind of blind impulse you had in the tree there, you didn't know what you were doing. Was that it?" (191).

Gene agrees that this is exactly what happened that day that he jounced the limb. He wasn't thinking about hurting Phineas, but rage took over and the next thing he knew his best friend was on the ground with a broken leg. Phineas shows that he accepts the reality of the situation and also forgives Gene. This is the closure that both friends need, and it comes just in time because Phineas dies the next day after complications during surgery. 

The resolution with the war is discussed for different characters at different times in the book. For example, Leper reveals his failed attempt at enlisting in the army in Chapter 10 to Gene. Leper's resolution revolves around the fact that he suffers a mental breakdown at bootcamp, goes AWOL, and ends up with a dishonorable discharge. Brinker's last words about the war is that he thinks he will join the Coast Guard; and Gene winds up touring the country while being assigned to different departments. Gene never actually makes it to combat before the war ends because his troop was transferred so many times that they couldn't be assigned to anything specific. Gene does mention that his own resolution came during the last year of high school rather than in the war, though. Gene's resolution about the war is as follows:

"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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