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The View Changed Over Time

Perspectives on life and the world around a person will begin to change over time. As a person experiences more aspects of life, their outlook begins to change. In the novel A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, the narrator is a boy named Gene. In the beginning the reader learns Gene is back at Devon School, the school he attended when he was younger. As he walks around the school he realizes that his view has changed on the school and the things inside of it. To show his view has changed Gene states, “So the more things remain the same, the more they change after all. Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence” (Knowles 6). The quote is valid when thinking of how perspective changes after time because of the experiences that shaped a person. The quote from the narrator takes place when is older and looking back at his childhood at the school. The novel then goes back to flashbacks to tell about the narrator’s time at the school when he was younger. The quote used in the beginning by the older Gene foreshadows events that are to come when he flashbacks to his childhood and gives the reader an idea of how his childhood has influenced his way of thinking, even as an adult.

In the start of the novel, Gene is back at Devon School as an adult and goes to find a tree. He looks over all the trees, but is looking for a specific one. The specific tree, that he does find, held childhood memories for him and is important to the entire novel. At first, the reader has no idea how important the tree is throughout the novel, but later on in the flashbacks of his childhood the reader can infer the tree’s significance. The tree is still the same tree from his youthful memories, but seems different now as an adult. Now that he is older, the tree no longer seems as large or intimidating as it was in his youth. The narrator compares how his perspective on the tree has changed by relating it to the giants from his childhood that when the person sees them later on in life realizes they are not really giants. To show his comparison Gene states:
This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find out that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but they are absolutely smaller, shrunken be age. (Knowles 6)
In his youth, it just seemed bigger because of his own smaller size as he was younger and still growing. Now as an adult, he no longer sees the tree as a giant like it was in his childhood. The tree had remained the same, besides it becoming older, and still was the same height. Gene’s perspective of the tree has changed, even though the tree remained the same over time. After seeing the tree after so many years, it when he realized that with age his outlook changes, as seen when he sees the tree from childhood memories. Gene’s viewpoint has changed from his childhood about the tree, and also has when it comes to love.

Love is not a prominent theme through the novel, but can be seen if examined close enough. Love and friendship can hand in and hand, which it does through the novel in Gene’s friendship with Phineas. To be friends, there is always a certain amount of love one another. As a youth, Gene attends Devon School, which is an all boy school. In the novel, the author is displaying more of a friendship love rather than a romance. Gene’s best friend is Phineas, who he often calls Finny. Despite being best friend, Gene tends to be jealous of Phineas because of his athletic abilities and for his ability of getting out of trouble. Gene is conflicted because he is glad to have him as a friend but also envies him. Phineas also shows nothing but love for Gene, which makes Gene even more jealousy because of Phineas’s inability to be envious. Gene feels Phineas thinks he is superior to him and some of the other boys at the school. Despite his jealousy of Phineas, he does what Phineas asks of him, sometimes even skipping classes for him, which shows loyalty. When Phineas dares Gene to jump off a tree, the same one that he goes to visit as an adult, he decides to do it with him. As they are both on the limb, Gene in an act of jealousy bounces the limb making Phineas fall. Phineas falls and shatters his leg, but does not know Gene did it purposely. At first, Phineas hints that Gene was the cause, but quickly apologizes for it. Phineas believes in his love of friendship of Gene and that he would not do it to him on purpose. Gene is stunned by Phineas’s loyalty to him and thinks to himself, “And I thought we were competitors! It was so ludicrous that I wanted to cry.” Gene thought they saw each other for rivals, but realizes Phineas has always been a true friend, unlike himself. When Phineas is gone from the school, recovering from his injury, the reader sees what an impact Phineas has on Gene. Gene goes through Phineas’s clothes and begins to try them on to be like Phineas. He loves Phineas so much and wishes to be like him, that he blurs the line between his best friend and himself. After Phineas come back to Devon Gene, who feels guilty about what he did, tries to sever ties with Phineas who stills clings to their friendship despite what happened. Phineas tries to make Gene a part of him, but at first Gene resists. Once when Gene takes the position to be a crew manager, in an act to get away from his friend, which is usually given to disabled people Gene gets in to a fight. At first it seems he took the position to break away from Phineas but it ends up making even more similar to Phineas. A minor character called Quackenbush calls Gene “maimed” and Gene erupts in to violence. Gene may be fighting for Finny or is maybe fighting as Finny. Phineas who can no longer play sports, begins to train Gene in sports, trying to make Gene like himself, before his fall. Phineas wants Gene to live out his dreams for him, making Gene more like himself. At first the boy’s relationship stated out as a friendship but jealousy soon crept in. Their love for one another changed as Gene tried to break away from Phineas but could not. Phineas held on to Gene and they develop a codependency for one another. Despite the rift of the fall between them, they still cling to one another because their love for one another is strong, despite neither of them admitting it. Everything around the two boys was still the same; their outlook on one another changed which resulted in altering their love for one another. The love for one another had changed form due to the experiences, but it was still a form of love only more mature. Though there is friendship love between the two boys for one another, eventually it will die.

At first Gene jounces the limb of the tree to make Phineas falls. He never thought of the consequences that would come with it. Gene thinks they are in competition with one another, but they are not. Gene’s feelings are confused, but Phineas remains a true friend. In his blindness, Gene’s jounce of the limb altered Phineas’s life. Another character named Brinker, is curious about Phineas’s fall on the tree that made him quit his athletics and changed his life, so he calls an “investigation” on the fall as he calls it a casualty to the war as Phineas can no longer enroll. He calls in Phineas to tell his side of his fall and questions him. Gene denies being in the tree when being questioned, so they call forward the only other witness, who is Leper . Leper was always quiet, but due to the stress of the upcoming war he enrolled early, trying to get a position he liked. He was not the army type and soon deserted the army, as they were soon going to discharge him due to mental health. Once Gene goes to visit him and Leper describes hallucinations that he gets. He also accuses Gene of making Phienas falls, revealing he knows the truth. Gene gets angry and attacks him, and leaves soon after because Leper’s nonsense talking to himself gets Gene frustrated. When Leper comes back to Devon School after leaving the army, he holds the truth. He knows what happened the night of Phineas’s fall so Brinker makes him “testify.” Leper begins to babble about what happened, describing the sun and comparing the boys’ movement to an engine. Leper becomes annoyed with Brinker and his questions very quickly. Brinker used to hold all the power, but now Leper does. He refuses to repeat himself so he does not get caught in his own words, and tells the crowd that he is important and refuses to tell more. Phineas who becomes infuriated with all of the
“investigation” gets up and begins to leave. Brinker calls after him saying he has not heard all of the facts yet. In his anger at Brinker’s statement, Phineas whirls around to face him and states, “You get the rest of the facts Brinker! You get all of your facts!” (169 Knowles) while tears ate coming down his face, which is the first time Gene ever saw Phineas cry. In his rush to get away, he uses his cane to walk faster which helps him due to his leg and falls down the marble staircase. After getting Dr. Stanpole he announces Phineas broke his leg again, but just a simple fracture. Gene goes to visit Phineas in the infirmary and Phineas asks him what else he wishes to break in him. Gene apologizes and quickly leaves, not being able to see Phineas in his condition. Dr. Stanpole asks Gene to pack a suitcase of Phineas’s clothes to bring to him and he does. He tells Phineas he tried to tell him the truth, and he seems to not want to talk about it. Phineas tells Gene he refused to believe the war existed because he would not get enlisted due to his leg, but if he did suddenly the war would exist. After discussing the war, Gene admits to a blind impulse to jounce the limb. He has to leave as Phineas is to under to surgery to fix his leg. When he goes back later to see Phineas, Dr. Stanpole tells him Phineas is dead. Gene;s reaction to his friend’s death was stated as: “It was incomprehensible. I felt an extremely cold chill along my back and neck, that was all” (Knowles 185). In the middle of his surgery, his heart stopped, Dr. Stanpole says due some bone marrow to his heart which stopped it. Gene’s feelings about Phineas’s death are mixed but he states, “I did not cry then or ever about Finny. I did not cry even when I stood watching him being lowered into his family’s strait-laced burial ground outside of Boston. I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case.” (Knowles 186). The prior quote proves just how much he had loved Phineas that he thought a piece of himself had died with Phineas. Phineas’s death by violence at first made Gene shiver and he could not comprehend it. Then over time, he had begun to accept it. Phineas was still dead, but over time he came to accept it and death with the feeling around his death. In the end, Gene had to come with terms with what he had done. His actions of blind impulse, had caused his friend’s life to end abruptly.

Through the novel, Gene’s perspective changes on his outlook on life, friends, war, and even himself. He deals with many mixed emotions of his actions such as guilt. He learned that he could not change what happened, but should think of the consequences prior to making actions. The quote from the beginning of the novel, foreshadows the events to come. It shows that the older Gene was reflecting on his actions within his childhood and their consequences. Over time his perspective has changed, especially when he goes back to Devon School. He realizes how different things are now that he is older and reflecting on his youth. In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the quote from the beginning shows the acceptance of an older Gene of what happened in his youth. The quote can relate to every aspect of the novel, in which each character grows and changes due to experiences. Everything someone experiences as a youth shapes their life, like it did for Gene. Gene had learned plenty of life lessons at Devon School, of his childhood. It was at Devon School that he made a true friend, but also lost him due to himself. In A Separate Peace, Gene had grown and changed his viewpoint on his life, and to prove it he states, “So the more things remain the same, the more they change after all. Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence” (Knowles 6). The tree had played an important role where he had hurt his true friend, his love of his friend was blinded by his own jealousy, and the death by violence was because of Phineas’s death as it was not his time to go. Phineas still had his life ahead of him, but Gene had altered it and caused his death without meaning to. Gene’s childhood was summed up in one quote that related to every aspect of the novel. As Gene’s viewpoint in the novel changed, he also did. He went to Devon School and came out a different person; due to the experiences there he will be forever changed.




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