In John Knowles A Separate Peace, symbols are used to develop and advance the themes of the novel. The main symbols found in the novel are World War II and the two sides of human personality, good and evil. These symbols appear several times in the novel. The symbols used in A Separate Peace are used to develop the theme and provide insight into the conflicts in the novel.
One of the symbols in A Separate Peace used to expand and further progress the themes of the novel is the contrast of human nature. The two sides of human personality are good and evil. Gene shows himself to be the evil side of humanity through his jealousy and hatred of Finny, who is shown to be the good side of human nature. A quote that shows this personality difference would be, "Finny could get away with anything. I couldn't help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little (Knowles, 18). This quote shows that Gene is becoming envious of Finny and his resentment becomes more prominent throughout the novel until he finally gets so jealous and angry at Finny that he shakes him out of a tree and breaks his leg. Another symbol used in A Separate Peace to develop the themes of the novel would be World War II. World War II is used as a catalyst for problems in the story, but in itself is a symbol for conflict and antagonism. All the characters in the novel find a private war inside themselves except for Finny who denies that World War II even exists and denies any thought of it because he cannot participate in the real war due to his broken leg as well as the ones inside him. The war is first presented as a distant source of uneasiness, but its prominence grows throughout the novel and eventually becomes a presence and representation for the adult worlds encroachment upon the youth in society. This is shown when Leper joins in the army and goes insane due to the gore and death he witnesses during the war. This also creates a conflict between Gene and the mentally unstable Leper, who accuses and attacks Gene for no reason. If Leper was psycho it was the army which had done it to him, and I and all of us were on the brink of the army (Knowles, 144). This quote shows that the war has changed Leper, who had sought refuge in the army in an attempt to escape his youthful existence (the real world) for an adult world of war and hate. These symbols show insight into the characters and their surrounding influences.
In conclusion, these symbols illustrate the themes of the novel as well as give the reader insight into the minds of the characters and a thorough look at their surrounding influences. The main symbols of war and inner human emotions are essential to understand the depth of the philosophy used in this novel. The symbols in Knowles novel are used to exaggerate the life of two young boys to an extreme in order to reveal the unfortunate things that can occur in a relationship when these themes are not taken seriously and the need to accept the potential evil within everyone and thus make peace with ones self.