Hoover vs. Gene Forester

June 3, 2008
By Karley Nelson, Land O Lakes, FL

In literature, characters often resemble various figures from history. In the book, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, the main character, Gene Forester, possesses many similar characteristics of politician and American president, Herbert C. Hoover.
In the novel, A Separate Peace, Gene Forester is presented as the narrator to the story. Unlike his athletic pal Finny, Gene is extremely bright in school, and he takes this knowledge very seriously. Herbert Hoover, like Gene, was raised from a young age to put knowledge and learning in front of all other aspects of life. Both Gene and Hoover both also share numerous personality traits that help to define and recognize who they each are.
Herbert Clark Hoover was born into a close-knit community, founded by the Quakers, that was continuously surrounded by friends and relatives. The Quakers, during Hoover’s lifetime, were dedicated to education. They believed that each individual possessed an “inner light” that only learning and knowledge could bring out. (Thompson 326). Even at a young age, Hoover’s strive for knowledge was evident. As one of his teachers from childhood stated, “The answer ‘I don’t know’ would never be enough for Hoover”; he continually strove to be the best he could be in whatever task was at hand (Thompson 327). When Hoover was orphaned at a young age, he went to live with a family friend named John Minthorn in order to receive a better education). At his school in Iowa with Minthorn, Hoover immediately took on a full course load, studying arithmetic, American History, Physiology, grammar and physical geography (Thompson328). This introduction to geography allowed Hoover to realize his passion for it, and from there he went on to graduate top of his class from Stanford University under a geography major. Hoover originally was not qualified to take an entrance exam to get in to Stanford; however, this initial rejection did not slow Hoover down. Hoover went to California to meet up with head of enrollment at Stanford, Joseph Swain (Thompson 329). Swain allowed Hoover to take the exam for “his whole face and posture showed his determination to pass the exam at any cost”. From that point on, completely devoted to geology at his new school, Hoover went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts in Geology from Stanford (Thompson 330).
Hoover’s personality was a very distinct one, and one that the American people got to experience first hand during World War Two. He was not socially outgoing, he was shy and timid (Thompson 326); however, at a young age Hoover was described as “industrious and determined…he put his whole heart into it...he worked with all his might”(Thompson 326). This determination carried over to his presidency, and even his life in the years after. Post presidency, Hoover was assigned Head of American relief Administration (Archives). Hoover was in charge of feeding Western Europe, as well as cutting own on food consumption in the United States (White House). Concerning the latter, he reduced consumption by 15% without food rationing (Archives). Hoover, however, was not selfish. He wised o feed both Germany and the Soviet Union (Archives). On feeding Russia, he proclaimed “Twenty million people are starving, whatever their politics, they shall be fed” (White House). Hoover took on big goals, and did not stop for anyone in order to achieve them.
When we first meet Gene Forester, he is returning to his private boarding school, Devon, where he spent his high school years with his best friend Phineas. Gene’s personality is immediately acknowledged as shy, but very observant. Gene’s current trip is taking place fifteen years after he was a student a Devon (Knowles 10), and yet he remembers the details of the school and school life as if they occurred the day before. Genes observations begin to become more numerous as his story continues; he describes the professors, the rivers at Devon, and even the schools infrastructure. However, above all other things, Gene observes his friend Phineas. Gene begins to analyze and criticize every aspect of Finny’s life and personality, yet he always keeps these thoughts to himself; he never lets Finny, or anyone else, know of his feelings. Like Hoover, Gene is extremely determined. Since Finny has he upper hand at sports, Gene puts all his efforts toward his grades. Gene, determined to beat Finny at school, begins to lose his mind with jealousy and suspicion towards Finny. When Finny wants to hang out with his best pal, Gene rages on about “Books! Work! Examinations!” (Knowles 56). Gene’s Strive to be the best takes over his social life. Gene’s downfall is largely attributed to his Quiet nature. He keeps his feelings deep inside of him in a way that nobody, even his “best friend” is able to help him overcome the challenges in his life (Knowles).
Herbert Hoover and Gene Forester are both very similar in many aspects. They are both shy yet determined, and they each put school and education in front of all other things. However, a difference does lie between these two beings. Hoover earns for knowledge. True knowledge. He wanted to learn everything his brain could possibly obtain and he would do anything to put this knowledge towards the task of helping others. Gene’s strive for knowledge is much more selfish. Gene does not want intelligence in order to benefit others, but simply to make himself better than his best friend Phineas. Gene’s determination is put towards spite and jealousy rather than well being and generosity like that of Herbert Hoover’s.

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