In the novel, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the main characters, Gene and Phineas, develop an indestructible relationship. Throughout the course of the novel this relationship undergoes alteration from sincerity to betrayal. At first, Gene is envious of Phineas because of Phineas’s self-confidence. After the incident at the tree, their relationship changes into a codependent one. Gene and Phineas develop a connection during a time of war, and with mutual support, motivate each other to live normal lives. Ultimately, because this friendship kills Phineas, their companionship is a more destructive and negative one.
In the first chapter, Gene describes Phineas in a very descriptive yet unemotional way. Gene states, “For such an extraordinary athlete-even as a Lower Middler Phineas had been the best athlete in the school- he was not spectacularly built. He was my height- five feet eight and a half inches (I had been claiming five feet nine before he became my roommate, but he had said in public with that simple self-shocking acceptance of his, “No, you’re the same height I am, five eight and a half. Were on the short side”).
He weighed a hundred fifty pounds, a galling ten pounds more than I did, which flowed from his legs to torso around shoulders to arms and full strong neck in an uninterrupted unity of strength” (16). Gene reveals his admiration for Phineas in this passage. Although this quotation seems simple and unbiased, Gene makes subtle comments that foreshadow a rivalry between the two boys. When Gene compares their height, a potential rivalry is revealed, along with Gene’s paranoia. Gene also refers to Phineas’s “shocking self-acceptance”. Gene is uncomfortable with himself and witnessing that nothing seems to phase Phineas is shocking to Gene.
This realization for Gene will arose problems later in the novel. Ironically, the codependent relationship between Gene and Phineas reflects more on Gene’s inability to accept himself than Phineas’s wanting to surpass Gene. All of Gene’s anger toward Phineas’s superiority stems from Gene’s insecurities. When Gene sees Phineas being able to get away with anything, his anger grows deeper. Throughout the novel, the readers see the inner thoughts of Gene, he repeats sentences several times to reassure himself, and never do the readers see Phineas’s perspective.
Because of this, the competition Gene creates between him and Phineas is just a figment of Gene’s imagination. The friendship between Gene and Phineas can be characterized in two ways. In the beginning of the novel, Gene admires Phineas but this admiration grows into jealousy. In the second half of the novel, their relationship turns into a deep emotional one. In chapter one, Gene jumps off the tree. Although Gene didn’t want to do this, the peer pressure he feels is too intense to ignore. Peer pressure plays a huge role in the development of Gene’s identity.
Gene fails to have boundaries for himself and as a result succumbs to the peer pressure Phineas puts on him. Although this type of relationship between friends is common, the incident at the tree, creates an unnatural codependent relationship. In this quotation, Gene has no control over his actions, because he and Phineas are too close, “What was I doing up here anyway? Why did I let Finny talk me into stupid things like this? Was he getting some kind of hold over me? ” (17). In chapter two, Gene becomes paranoid about his relationship with Phineas. Gene begins to refer to their friendship as a rivalry.
Gene develops his own “war” with Phineas, in the midst of a real war. Gene says, “It was hypnotism. I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything. I couldn’t help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying your best friend a little” (25). This envy fuels Gene to excel at everything, which creates a distorted reality for Gene. Gene says, “When I looked down at the stopwatch and realized a split second before I permitted my face to show it or my voice to announce it that Finny had broken a school record, I had experienced a feeling that lso can be described in one word-shock. To keep silent about this amazing happening deepened the shock for me. It made Finny seem to unusual for not friendship, but too unusual for rivalry” (45). This quote reveals Gene’s feelings about Finny’s success. The anger and envy that stem out of this will fuel Gene to hurt Finny both physically and emotionally. “Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent and I jounced the limb. Finny, his balance gone, broke through the little branches below and hit the bank with a sickening thud.
It was the first clumsy action I had ever seen him make. With unthinking sureness I moved out on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of fear of this forgotten” (60). This influential event is a reflection of Gene’s anger toward Phineas. Gene will regret jouncing the limb later because of the huge impact it will have on his future. Immediately following the incident, Gene feels enough guilt to tell Phineas what really happened. Gene says, “I bust out crying into my hands; I cried for Phineas and for myself and for this doctor who believed in facing things.
Most of all I cried because of the kindness, which I had no expected” (64). As the novel progresses Gene feels the need to tell Phineas the truth, so he can rid his guilt. Phineas’s inability to believe that Gene caused the accident displays Phineas’s innocence. In chapter eight Gene shows his codependence on Phineas even more than before. Gene says, “I could hardly believe it, but it was so plainly printed in the closed expression of his face to mistake, too discernable beneath the even tone of his voice. Phineas was shocked at the idea of me leaving. In some way he needed me.
He needed me. I was the least trustworthy person he had ever met. I knew that; he knew or should know that too. I had even told him. I had told him. But there was no mistaking the shield of remoteness in his face and voice. He wanted me around. The war then passed away from me, and dreams of enlistment and escape and a clean start lost their meaning for me” (108). This quote is a perfect example of Gene’s need for Phineas. Gene is convincing himself that he needs to stay for Phineas, because they have become one. The moment Gene jounced the limb; any hope of enlistment isappeared. He tries to justify not enlisting by saying Phineas needs Gene to stay. But, as stated earlier, Gene depends on Phineas and by Gene repeating himself the readers understand Gene, an insecure boy who depends on Phineas because of pity and admiration. Even Brinker notices Gene’s pity for Gene and points it out to him. This pity forces Gene to focus his life on Phineas. In the end of the novel Phineas dies, even though Gene emotionally killed Phineas long before that point. Gene says, “I did not cry then or ever about Finny.
I did not cry even when I stood watching him being lowered into his family’s strait-laced burial ground outside of Boston. I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case” (194). Gene killed Phineas and in a way killed himself. In this case, the codependence between the two was a negative one. Although at the beginning their relationship seemed like a harmless friendship, everything changed on that fateful day at the tree. Their relationship was like an open wound, there was no closure, and Gene depended too much on Phineas.