Expository Essay for A Separate Peace
Within the novel A Separate Peace, there were many literary elements included by the author, John Knowles, in order to help reinforce the readers understanding of the main theme. While there were abundant examples of personification, similes, and metaphors, one of the literary elements that Knowles seemed to use the most was binary oppositions. Binaries were located in some of the most crucial parts of the plot and clearly, were very important to the progression of the novel. The author used binaries in this book to better communicate and demonstrate the struggles that the main character faced on his journey from boyhood into the adult world.
One of the most important binaries which I thought had a major impact throughout the book was Friendship vs. Envy/Hatred. I felt that this specific binary was the pinnacle binary of the whole novel as it captured the relationship between the two main characters, Finny and Gene. More specifically, in the book Gene was responsible for most of the Hatred/Envy, and Finny was more accountable for the friendship part. I feel that one of the quotes which best described Finnys attitude towards his relationship with Gene was, I hope that you are having a pretty good time here. I know I kind of dragged you away at the point of a gun, but after all, you cant come to the shore with just anybody and you cant come by yourself, and at this teen-age period in life the proper person is your best pal (Knowles 40). In this quote, Finny tells Gene that he is grateful to Gene for being his best friend. This shows that Finny is actually a true friend and is not as selfish as he may appear. However, Finny is also a little envious of Genes academic abilities and this next quote helps to illustrate this fact, Id kill myself out of jealous envy (Knowles 44). Even though Finny says this in a joking manner in response to Genes question as to whether or not Finny would mind if Gene ended up class valedictorian, there was some truth in it which is reinforced throughout the story by the different ways that Finny tries to sabotage Genes grades. On the other hand, while Gene cares for Finny, he is also resentful towards Finny because of all the ways that Finny is superior to him. This envy became evident fairly early in the book as demonstrated by this quote from Chapter 2, I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything. I couldnt help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little (Knowles 18). Unfortunately, as the story evolves, Genes jealousy of Finny builds to such an extreme level that he releases all of it in that instant when he knocks Finny out of the tree which ultimately, leads to Finnys death. Ironically, it is only after Finnys death that Gene realizes his true feelings of affection for Finny, but his feelings of jealousy and hatred kept him from seeing this until it was too late.
Another important binary that I found was the comparison between the two rivers that ran near the campus, the Devon River and the Naguamsett River. These rivers seem to symbolize the two sides of life described in A Separate Peace; the Devon River is a cool, clean stream that represents what is good at Devon while the Naguamsett is a very dirty, turbulent stream. There is a scene within the book where Gene made a comparison between the two rivers specifically based on the turbidity of the water, but I feel that this comparison is in relation to the occurring events in Genes experience at Devon Academy. Within the scene, Gene describes the Devon compared to the Naguamsett River, and he portrays the Devon as calm and full of serenity, while the Naguamsett is expressed as filthy and rough. This quote helps describe Genes first encounter with the Naguamsett River after getting into a fight, I had never been in it (the Naguamsett) before; it seemed appropriate that my baptism there had taken place on the first day of this winter session, and that I had been thrown into it, in the middle of a fight (Knowles 78). Unlike the earlier jump Gene made from the tree into the Devon River which was more like a cleansing baptism as it was a new beginning for him in his life at Devon with Finny, this fall into the Naguamsett River was a sharp contrast as it signified his fall morally from friendship with Finny which was caused by his own jealousy and insecurities. I think the turbulence of the Naguamsett River also signified the deep internal conflicts that Gene was facing throughout the story.
The binary Summer vs. Winter is one of the background binaries which unfolds as the novel progresses. Basically, the binary represents the sharp contrast between the innocence of the summer session at Devon when things are peaceful and carefree, to the harshness of the winter session which is more serious and disciplined with the boys also facing the prospect of going to war. I believe that it also represents Genes relationship with Finny because throughout most of the summer session, he has a more relaxed, easygoing relationship with Finny, whereas during the winter session, their friendship takes a different turn after Finny returns to Devon. Gene starts to realize what he had done to Finny, which leads to a stronger sense of guilt building within Gene as he struggles to deal with the consequences of his inner turmoil.
Of the literary elements found in A Separate Peace, the binaries were especially important to the story because they really help the reader to understand the novel on a much deeper level. The specific binaries which I analyzed included: Friendship vs. Envy/Hatred, Devon River vs. Naguamsett River, and Summer vs. Winter. While each of these binaries has its own meaning and sub-theme , they also share something in common because they all relate to one of the larger themes of the novel which is good vs. evil or innocence vs. guilt. The unique use of these binaries woven throughout the story, along with the other uses of symbolism, helps to create a very interesting novel which uses symbolism as the main component.