The John Knowles, A Separate Peace Essay

America is on the verge of entering World War II, a war that seems far removed from the students at Devon, a private boarding school in New England. Their lives are not impacted at all, as they finish the laid back summer session and prepare to leave for vacation before returning in the fall. Life is good. Life is good, that is, until Gene, jealous and envious of Finny, either consciously or unconsciously shakes the tree branch that causes the fateful broken leg that ends Finny’s athletic future. Riddled with guilt and shame, Gene determines to become Finny’s ideal athlete and Finny begins to live vicariously through Gene. Thus a co-dependent relationship is formed that deepens throughout the story.

The Themes of War and Codependency

The themes in A Separate Peace, John Knowles, are pretty transparent, and do make good topics for essays.

  1. The perils of codependency. When two people rely on each other for their identities and purpose in life, there is always the danger that, should the relationship end, by choice or by death, the individuals are incapable of functioning independently. Gene is thrust into this situation by the death of Finny.
  2. Inner war is inevitable for everyone as we seek independent identities and our own beliefs and value systems.
  3. Inner war is inevitable as each individual makes the transition from childhood to adulthood. The reality of World War II was simply the backdrop that played a role in this transition for the boys at Devon School.

A great A Separate Peace essay could be written on any of these themes, especially relating the coming-of-age theme to young adults who were thrust into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, forcing a rapid transition into adulthood.

Other John Knowles, A Separate Peace essay topics might include the following:

  1. What is the symbolism of the summer and winter sessions as they relate to growing up.
  2. What is the symbolism of Finny’s first fall at the end of the summer session? In fact, what are all of the boys “falling” from?
  3. Envy and jealousy have consequences. Discuss this thought relative to the events of the story.
  4. Did you develop any sympathy for Gene? Why or why not?
  5. How does codependency between Finny and Gene prevent both boys from moving into adulthood?
  6. What is Gene’s “separate peace?” What is Finny’s?
  7. What “wars” go on inside Gene?
  8. The conflict in this novel can be seen as man vs. himself. Show how this is depicted in A Separate Peace characters.

There is a lot to “chew on” in this coming-of-age novel, but as you “chew” and make a decision about your essay topic, you can certainly search the web for what others have to say about the themes, symbolism, and conflicts of the piece, as you formulate a topic and thesis. And, as always, Essay Thinker is here to help.