Artificial vs. Natural in A Separate Peace

Maggie

Someone once said that being yourself, being who you are, is a successful rebellion. Gene Forrester, one of the main characters in John Knowles's novel, A Separate Peace should have taken this advice. Throughout the novel, Gene acted artificially, disguising his true self. He lived in fear of people finding out what he was really like. Phineas, Gene's best friend and the other main character in this novel, on the other hand, acted naturally around people. He was not afraid of people seeing who he really was. In John Knowles's novel, A Separate Peace, Gene acted artificially, while Phineas acted naturally.


To begin with, Gene Forrester acted artificially. There are several instances throughout the novel where Gene disguises himself or is influenced by artificial things. Towards the beginning of the novel Gene tells the reader that he was a half inch taller than Finny ("I had been claiming five feet nine inches before he became my roommate..." (Gene Pg. 8) and that Finny weighed ten pounds more than he did. "He weighed a hundred and fifty pounds, a galling ten pounds more than I did..." (Gene Pg. 8) Because Gene mentioned those facts, the reader can tell that even having a slight height and weight advantage or disadvantage to Finny were important to him. What people, especially Finny, thought about him worried him. "...I would have lost face with Phineas, and that would have been unthinkable." (Gene Pg. 26) Later in the novel, when Finny wanted to wear a pink shirt to school, Gene told him it would make him look like a "fairy". "Pink! It makes you look like a fairy!' (Gene Pg. 17) Gene knew that people might question Finny's masculinity and ridicule him so he spoke up. Gene would have never taken such a risk as wearing a pink shirt because it was not socially acceptable at Devon School. This again points out Gene's obsession with what people thought of him. Gene had a cautious, competitive nature and let grades and trying to outdo Finny run his life. When Finny broke the school's swimming record, Gene did not understand why he did not want people to know about it. "The worst thing is that there weren't any witnesses. Tomorrow. We'll get the coach here, and all the official timekeepers, and I'll call up the Devonian and send a reporter and a photographer-...Not say anything about it! When you broke the school record!" (Gene Pg. 36) Gene would have wanted awards and praise for breaking a school record which shows again how highly he values artificial things. Grades also played an important part in Gene's life and he measured himself by what his class rank was. He pretended to not care about his studies, but Finny saw right through him. "Don't give me that line...You want to be head of the class, valedictorian, so you can make a speech on Graduation Day...I know you." (Finny Pg. 43) Later on, Finny convinces Gene to go to the beach with him. While Finny runs and frolics in the water, having a good time, enjoying nature, Gene only worries about what time it is and whether he will be able to pass his exam. "I looked at the sky and the ocean and knew it was around six-thirty. The ride back to Devon would take three hours at least. My important test, trigonometry, was going to be held at ten o'clock." (Gene Pg. 42) This is just another example of how time, schedules, and grades play an important part in Gene's life. While at the beach, Finny tells Gene that he is his "best pal". Gene does not reply and tell him that he is his best pal, but instead, keeps quiet. Instead of being completely honest and open with Finny, Gene chooses to mask his true emotions. He knew if someone ever found out about him saying something like that, that it would be "the next thing to suicide". (Gene Pg. 40) This obsession with grades and other unnatural things leads Gene to believe that there is an intense competition going on between himself and Finny. He convinces himself that they are "even in enmity". (Gene Pg. 46) He feels nervous about all the influence Finny has over him and is suspicious about Finny always taking him away from his studies. "Finny