For many, adolescence is an awkward time. It is the coming-of-age where you are no longer a child but not yet an adult. It is also the opportunity to discover who you are and who you want to become. In A Separate Peace, the narrator, Gene develops through the shadowing of his best friend, Finny.
Gene vs Finny
Finny is the complete character foil to Gene. While Gene is quiet and academic, Finny is carefree, extroverted and athletic. Gene is rational and lives by the “moderation of things”. Finny is the typical rogue character- well liked, charming, witty and able to talk himself out of anything. In a sense, Gene is the adult part of adolescence. Finny, however, is the child-like side- the carefree spirit. Their opposite personalities are perhaps the reason they become such good friends; they complete each other.
The Quest for Identity
Like all teenagers, Gene is trying to find himself. Most teenagers have idols, people they aspire to be. Whether they want to be like their fathers, their brothers or a superstar, adolescence is a time to adapt those qualities into their lives. Gene idolises Finny and aspires to be more like him. For example, Gene wants to be brave and only becomes more daring because Gene “shamed [him] into it”. While Finny is the epitome of careless adolescence, living the moment and testing his limits, Gene is too timid and lacks the self-confidence to take any risks and discover his true self. Finny forces Gene to take more risks like participating in the Ball Blitz and training for the Winter Olympics.
The Mirroring Effect
In a sense, Finny acts like a mirror to Gene and a way to validate Gene’s existence. Gene watches Finny and tries to analyse himself in comparison to Finny. In fact, the entire book acts as a type of mirror, a retrospective look back in time that reflects on Gene’s existence. Perhaps this book is written during Gene’s mid-life crisis, the second most common time in life (after adolescence) where one feels disconnected from oneself. Perhaps Gene is looking to his experience with Finny and this narrative as a way to find himself again.
Gene wants to be the way Finny sees him. Finny’s belief that Gene can do anything is a confirmation of the person Gene is turning into. Finny acts like a guide, helping Gene transform into the man he wants to become. However, on closer examination, Gene and Finny are one in the same. Both are created through Gene’s memory; both are seen through Gene’s eyes and both are part of the stage of adolescence.
When Finny dies at the end of A Separate Peace, these two characters become one. His death is necessary in order for Gene’s character to fully develop and become whole. Through the re-creation of this story, Gene is able to piece the puzzle back together and find the peace within.
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. New York: McMillan Publishing, 1959.