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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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1. B
2. B
3. B
4. C
5. B
6. A
7. C
8. A
9. B
10. B

11. From the very beginning, as we've noticed, John Knowles wants us to be aware of the kinds of weather enveloping Gene and Devon. You don't have to be as supersensitive as Gene to be influenced by changes in the weather; the morning of a cloudy, rain-driven day feels a lot different than the dawn of a crisp, shining, bird-filled spring day, doesn't it? Weather creates a mood in the novel, but it achieves something more than that. It virtually speaks to Gene-and, therefore, to us: "a wet, self-pitying November day... trees bleakly reaching into the fog" or, later, "a faint, green haze hanging over the grass, shot through with twilight sun." The author makes you mindful of Devon's situation on the edge of a vast forest. And when winter comes, the school is "clamped" beneath snow and Finny can barely walk on the treacherous ice. Perhaps Knowles is saying something about what we lose when we become too distanced from nature-a common fate of Western man. Perhaps he is trying to remind us of a simpler, more idealistic age, when man lived in harmony with his environment.

12. At the end of Chapter 6 Gene tells us he wants "to be part of Phineas." He puts on Phineas' clothes. He is obsessed with describing and analyzing Finny's actions-real and imagined-and his reasons for doing things. He wants to please Finny so desperately that he ends up hurting him. In Chapter 7 he talks about the "many faces" of the Devon students, almost as if he's finding an excuse for his own lack of definition. Do you think A Separate Peace, then, could be interpreted as Gene's own extensive self-exploration, using Finny as a measure or standard toward which Gene aspires? Or do you think it's important that Gene, as narrator, be the kind of person he is so that we don't lose our focus on the hero of the book? In either case, you'll find that deciding about your view of Gene is one method of clarifying the whole story.

13. You can't turn more than a few pages in this short book without finding some reference to sports. Finny holds sports in the highest light, believing "you always win" when you play. If you are involved in sports at all, you know there's often much more at stake than mere fun and games. Anyone who plays seriously can tell you that. If you take the position that sports figure too heavily in the novel, you'll want to show what other elements (friendship, scholarship, the war) advance the book's message more successfully. If you believe that sports deserve to be central to the novel, you'll want to consider the purposes they serve; that is, they bring the boys together to let off energy, they allow Finny to assume the control he needs to have; they tell you a lot about the person who plays them, as when Gene relegates himself to managing the crew as an act of repentance. When Dr. Stanpole tells Gene to advise Finny that "sports are finished," it seems as if the death sentence has been imposed. What does this tell you about the importance of sports, and how rightful is that importance?

14. Think about that looming tree with the pegs set into its sides. It could represent a challenge to scale the heights of life, to dare to try for the impossible. In that case, is what happens to Finny fair and just? Why should he, the inventor of such a thriving game, be fated to die? Think about poor Leper, content to fade into the woodwork or to amble off into the hills. Is it fair and just that his mind should crack, that he should be tortured with images of "womens' faces on mens' bodies?" Think about Gene's potentially imaginative spirit, twisted into fearful, paranoid fantasies about his best friend as his only enemy. Was he put on earth to glorify or to condemn Finny? Is his endless guilt-still alive 15 years after the events-fair and just? And what about the self-appointed trial by jury of Brinker and his friends? What sort of justice is meted out there, in the First Building in the middle of the night? Consider these questions and you'll be on the road to understanding this important issue.

15. Gene cues us to change in the very beginning of the story when he says, "the more things remain the same, the more they change after all.... Changed, I headed back through the mud."
Flashing forward to the tragic conclusion of the book, it seems imperative that Finny's death serve as a milestone of change in Gene's life, perhaps even as the ironic inspiration for the book itself. Can you point to changes in Gene's character over the year-long span? Does he become more forthright, more unsparing with himself, less distorted in his attitudes not only toward Finny but toward his other friends and fellow students? You may want to examine the way he gradually but surely backs away from idealizing Finny so much and then grows to appreciate him much more simply, for his human qualities-so that in death his friend shines forth even more authentically. You may want to look at his changing perspective on values-what's really important and worth living for, and what isn't-from the beginning of the story to the end. And the Gene of 15 years later certainly has come to understand the permanence of change in a world where "nothing endures." This is not as bleak as it might at first sound, is it?

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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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