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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gene's Hero Journey in John Knowles' A Separate Peace

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Throughout A Separate Peace, its most recognizable familiarity was that the main character, Gene Forrester, followed an intellectual odyssey that foreshadowed the Hero Journey archetypal pattern. Undergone Genes reliving experience of his days at Devon School, it was most obvious that he began in his own, known world where he was in control of all around him and then as tests and trials of his self-composure surfaced, Gene transformed into holding a better understanding of himself through his spiritual healing and return to the new world. Thus, due to Gene Forresters succession of his intellectual odyssey, A Separate Peace had a high applicabilty of the Hero Journey archetype.


With knowledge of Joseph Campbells form and ideas of the Hero Journey archetype, there was a clear appliance of it to Genes intellectual odyssey in A Separate Peace. Similarily to his first stage a beginning in the known, safe world, we are first encountered with Gene, as a light-hearted, sixteen-year old with no worries. Despite the fact that war was going on, Gene lived a carefree life calmly,


numbly reading Virgil and playing tag in the river downstream (7). To Gene and the boys, there was no need for fear or need to enroll in the war because there was no real war, the bombs in Central Europe were completely unreal to us here...our place was too fair for us to accept that. We spent the summer in complete selfishness (). For Gene specifically, why would he need to worry? He was a confident, social, and well educated teenage boy with good social status in school. He also had his own sense of identity about himself.Overall, he and his friends reminded people of what peace was like. Like Gene says, they could be thought of as a sign of the life the war was being fought to preserve (17). But, all that was about to change...


Genes life could be considered quite content, almost perfect. And then surfaced the call to adventure, related to the Hero Journey archetype. But, take his life and all his downfalls, what is to be realized is that Finny, Genes roommate and best friend (), had all Gene does except Genes downfalls, like sports for example, were Finnys superiorities. Because of this, Gene turns out to become very jealous of Finny and discovered his deadly rivalry (46) for him. As this rivalry began and grew, Gene entered into the new unknown world. And the crossing of the of the threshold occurs when Gene


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“jounced the limb. Finny, his balance gone...hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud” (5).


Now completely in the new world, Gene began to encounter a large variety of difficult intellectual tests and trials. All of a sudden, Gene was filled with feelings of guilt, uncertainty, unstability, confusion, and new responsibilities. At first, Gene felt he had nothing to do with Finny’s fall and at one time even asked Finny, “Do you remember what made you fall” (57)? But this denial began to grow and causes Gene to live a harsh summer “spent in an atmosphere of reverie and unreality...” (5). Then, when Finny acknowledged the idea that there was a slight possibility that Gene could have jounced the limb, Gene returned to his dorm room, and wondered to himself, “could it be that he might be right? Had I really and definitely and knowingly done it after all? I couldn’t remember, I couldn’t think” (6). This began to show Gene’s guilt, confusion, and guilt towards Finny’s fall. But, as more intellectually difficult trials surfaced, and the guilt increased, Gene started to feel like he was part of Finny. What was done to Finny is done to him. When Finny is told he can no longer participate in sports, Gene “wanted no more of sports... they were barred from him, as though when Dr. Stanpole said, ‘Sports are


finished’ he had been speaking to him” (76), instead of Finny. Gene feeling part of Finny, expressed not only his doubt in himself, but confusion in himself, and the feel of immortality. To Gene, he “wondered in the silences between the jokes about Leper whether the still hidden parts of himself might contain the Sad Sack, the outcast, or the coward” (11). Conclusively, Gene’s feeling of immortality could not take back what had been done to Finny, but he also “couldn’t make himself over between dawn and dusk” (7), like he had been able to do before. Almost biggest of his inner-self trials though, Gene, now realizing he had jounced the limb, does not want to admit his wrongdoing. He didn’t care about the rest of the guys, but he feared Finny finding out. All of a sudden, “he [Finny] was suddenly terrifyingly starnge to me...” (157-168).


But before he could tell Finny of his wrongdoing, Finny fell again, Gene reached the peak of his insanity, and Gene is faced with the supreme ordeal of his intellectual journey. Although it seems that Gene has already been on the road to insanity, it’s obvious he reached the peak of it as he walked down a road that he has walked down many, many times in his life. But as he continued, his immortality and insanity take over as he realizes that “his whole life at Devon had


been a dream or rather that everything at Devon...were intensly real, wildy alive and totally meaningful,, and he alone was a dream, a figment which had never really touched anything. He felt that he was not, never had been, and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me...” (177). His insanity continued, when the “the stadium did speak powerfully, and at all times, including this moment. But I could not hear, and that was because I did not exist” (178). The ongoing insanity and immortality made him start to hallucinate and personify other immortal things like the “newsreels and magazines [that were] choked with images of blazing artilleries and bodies hald sunk in the sand of a beach somewhere” (17). “I tried to calm myself,” Gene said to try and justify what he did to Finny, “after all, people were shooting flames into caves and grilling other people alive... my brief burst of animositu, lasting only a second...what was that in the midst of the holocaust?” (17-180). Gene has to overcome his self confusion with himself to see and accept reality. But, after a day of norm and wait for Finny’s surgery to conclude, “Phineas died from the marrow of his bone flowing down his blood stream to his heart” (185). Gene, faced with the supreme ordeal of his intellectual journey, took this shockingly and “did not cry then or ever about Finny. I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case” (186). Gene felt, he himself had died and the problem he was faced with was most painful because it is uncontrollable and he cannot bring his best friend back.


The return to the “normal world,” the spiritual healing, the recrossing of the threshold, and gift to the world in A Separate Peace related to the Hero Journey archetype. As Gene said, “it seamed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart” (1). This supported his return because it proves how Gene finally understood the war and how it affected his life with Finny. Also with his return, Gene felt a spiritual cleansing of fury in his inner-self because his “fury was gone, he felt it had gone, dried up at the source withered and lifeless. Phineas had absorbed it and taken it with him, and he [Gene] was rid of it forever” (15). He was finally able to admit his hatred and its consequence due to the fact he “never killed anybody... because his war ended before he ever put on a uniform; he was on active duty all my time at school; he killed his enemy there” (16). He admitted his wrongdoing. He defeated his fear or as he said it, “I must have made my escape from it” (). This also showed his healing. As far as Gene’s gift to the world, following the Hero Journey archetype, he spoke to all, “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. Anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain” (6). He finally realized how as things change, they’re really the same and it was finally the time for him to admit that.


Due to the Hero Journey archetypal substructure, the understanding of the novel, A Separate Peace, was a less burdensome task because of its focus on a certain pattern of ideas that many pieces of literature follow. Novels based upon the Hero Journey archetype are a prevalent occurence because they also tend to be a piece that is very moral and teaches the reader new ideas because of how or what the characters discover. Therefore, the use of the Hero Journey archetype in A Separate Peace composes the novel to be relevantly more universal, or comprehensive, and satisfying to the reader.





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