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A Separate Peace

John Knowles


Key Facts

Key Facts

full title ·  A Separate Peace

author · John Knowles

type of work · Novel

genre · Coming-of-age story; tragedy

language  · English

time and place written  · New England, 1957–1958

date of first publication  · 1959

publisher · Macmillan

narrator · Gene Forrester narrates the story as he revisits his high school campus and recalls events that happened fifteen years earlier.

point of view · The narrator speaks in the first person, describing events as he perceived them at the time of their occurrence, though occasionally with the augmented knowledge of hindsight (sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the perspective of the younger Gene and the older Gene). Although he apparently recounts external events with honesty and thoroughness, Gene is an unreliable narrator in that he withholds his own thoughts and emotions regarding certain crucial scenes, such as Finny’s fall and the boys’ makeshift trial of Gene.

tone · Occasionally nostalgic but largely brooding and melancholy; often regretful

tense · Past tense; the narrator refers to the recent past (“not long ago”) before launching into a flashback on the more remote past of fifteen years earlier. The book then ends with a return to the recent past.

setting (time) · The story begins in 1958 but quickly flashes back to the years 1942–1943

setting (place) · The Devon School, an exclusive New England academy

protagonist · Gene

major conflict · Gene feels both love and hate for his best friend, Finny, worshipping and resenting Finny’s athletic and moral superiorities.

rising action · Gene’s envy of Finny grows; Gene realizes that Finny doesn’t return his resentment; Gene becomes jealous of Finny’s seeming incapacity to be envious; Gene feels that Finny is a morally superior person; Finny suggests that the boys climb a tree together.

climax · Gene jounces the limb of the tree, making Finny fall and shatter his leg.

falling action · Gene feels guilty about Finny’s fall; he and Finny become even more intimate, developing a codependency; the boys put Gene on “trial” for the accident; Finny falls down the stairs and breaks his leg again; Finny dies during the operation on his leg.

themes · Codependency’s threat to identity; the creation of inner enemies

motifs  · Transformation; athletics

symbols  · World War II; the summer and winter sessions at Devon; Finny’s fall

foreshadowing  · Prior to his flashback, the older Gene makes reference to a “death by violence” and to fears that he had at school, which are associated with a flight of marble steps and a tree. These remarks foreshadow Gene’s revelation of Finny’s two accidents: the falling from the tree and the falling down the steps.

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by jimmygaytens, November 25, 2014

Leper camps in his dining room after escaping the army, he also says he wanted to be in the ski unit. The dining room is a big part about Lepers escaping part.


4 out of 18 people found this helpful

Horrible Book

by sonoma15, November 11, 2015

This book was horrible and not fun to read.


10 out of 20 people found this helpful


by allidaye1130, November 17, 2015

I don't think that Finny falling out of the tree is the climax because it doesn't solve anything, in fact it begins the novel. The climax is when the Doctor at Devon announces that Finny is dead. This is because it starts the resolution of the book and the action starts winding down from that point on.


1 out of 3 people found this helpful

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