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11. We've talked often about the ever-present backdrop of wartime in the novel. It enters the students' lives in a variety of ways. The best way to tackle this question-as with most questions that relate to a continuous theme-is to trace a continuous thread through the story. In this case, you might start with the absurdly comical scene at Mr. Patch-Withers' tea party, when Finny announces "the bombing of Central Europe" with an innocence that clues you to the freshness and purity of these boys nearly of draft age. Notice how the minor skirmishes on the playing field are tied to the major battles in Europe; might John Knowles be saying something about the inevitable inclinations toward violence that exist in human nature? Of course Leper's radical change is the most dramatic statement about war's damaging effect on the personal level. If you choose three or four examples like this carefully, you will be able to build a convincing case that leads overwhelmingly in the right direction.
12. Have you ever known a high school that wasn't filled with people who were competing against one another? The Devon School is no exception. From tree-jumping to jokes to put-downs to blitzball; from the Butt Room to the soccer field to the gym to French class; from best wrestler to highest grade average. Sometimes competition is healthy and good, as when Finny encourages Gene to compete against himself in getting into physical shape. Sometimes it's bad, as when Gene imagines that Finny is out to better him in scholarship. You might want to relate this question to schooltime incidents in your own experience that are similar to those in the book-to show how little times have changed since Gene Forrester went to school.
13. Answering this question will help you to understand better what the boys in A Separate Peace are experiencing. You're not that distant from sixteen, and you have a vivid impression of what your relationship with adults was like at that time. Start with a discussion of how adults in different contexts-in school, at home, socially-perceived you, in your opinion. Were they authoritarian, kind, sympathetic? Could they remember what life had been like for them at your age? Then compare your memories with Gene's. Consider Leper's mother and how she treated him at home. Examine Brinker's father's behavior at graduation time. Look at the masters at Devon and their nostalgic feelings about the boys. (You might want to put this essay away to read again when you're 30 years old, to see whether you still hold the same opinions!)
14. A good way to approach this question would be to explore your attitude toward fate or destiny or a higher order in your own life. Are you completely responsible for all your actions, or do things sometimes happen to you out of the blue, causing you to change direction when least expected? Remember Finny's rule: "Always say some prayers at night because it might turn out that there is a God." Take another hard look at the way Gene describes the moment when he jounces that tree limb. How clear is he about his behavior, then or later on, looking back? Did you ever do something and feel as if you were being pushed along by a power outside yourself? You might even go so far as to say that Finny-like the hero of a Greek tragedy-was destined to die in order that others, like Gene, might learn from his example. Suppose the war, a tremendous force that is beyond the Devon boys' control, had not been taking place during their crucial final year at school. Think how different the story would then have been, and explain how differently Leper (for instance) might have turned out.
15. You'll want to approach this question in much the same manner as you did the first essay question, by picking up the thematic thread of love and following it through the story. How does Gene try to express his love for Finny, and how successful is he? When they're sitting together on the beach, Finny tells Gene that Gene is his best pal. But most of the time actions speak louder than words in a friendship. Is Finny the only person in the story capable of experiencing love with a season of the year? You'll want to touch on the special kind of love that occurs between friends who will do anything for each other. How successful do you think Gene and Finny are at achieving this bond? Do they enjoy it in the beginning, or do they have to pass through some crises together before understanding such love? And what about love for an institution? Do you think the boys love their school, and does it return their feelings in kind? Finally, on the most abstract level, you could talk about love of country when it's used as an excuse to send young men off to fight battles. How real is that kind of love?