Phineas as a Victim of High School Changes in A Separate Peace by John Knowles

High School is a time for great physical, mental and emotional changes in youth. Some students experience a three-foot height change, and others, an epiphany. These changes happen over the course of high school but can be brought about quickly under the correct circumstances. In the novel “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, Phineas is another victim of high school changes, catalyzed by injury His life begins normally, as a superb athlete A tragic “accident” wrecks his chance at a this normal life and puts Finny in a state of denial.

However, he eventually accepts his reality by snapping out of his dreamer mentality. The progression of Finny’s mental state is indicative of how trauma can catapult the normally traumatizing growth of youth in high school into a state of disbelief and denial, detaching one from reality.  Finny begins life at Devon school as a dreamer. He has a free spirit, creating activities and doing odd things for pure amusement.

As Finny is trying on unusual clothes, he ponders “…what would happen if I looked like a fairy to everyone.” Phineas really did not care what others think about him, he is just curious for his own sake, this dressing scene, and the pages following in which he wears the pink shirt demonstrate his carefree attitude towards life. After swimming in the school pool and breaking a record, Phineas notes how “the only real swimming is in the ocean.” He is humble to the fact that he breaks the schools record, but wishes to swim in the ocean as if it were somehow a greater feat.

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He does not pay heed to the fact that they are breaking an important rule, and might even miss class. The first few chapters of “A Separate Peace” stress the dreamer mentality of Phineas. In addition, Finny has no visible fear of things that others commonly are afraid of.

For example, the dreaded tree is a nonissue in the mind of Finnyr He jumps first while saying, “Here’s my contribution to the war effortr” Others in his group of friends tremble at the sight of the tall tree. Even Gene is skeptical about the safety of the tree to begin with, only jumping after finny goes first for reassurance Phineas chooses what needs to be done, and sticks with his decisions without fear of failure. To save Gene from falling from the tree, Finny “shot out and grabbed my [Gene’s] arm, and with my balance restored, the panic immediately disappeared.” He does what has to be done instantly without questioning himself in the process. Finny lacks fear in things that could be a serious issue to others, It is this lack of fear that makes his injury so tragic. After his fall from the limb, Phineas denies that Gene jounced the limb, and the existence of a war going on.

It seems to Gene that Finny actually believes that the war is a joke made up to subdue the people When discussing other conspiracies, finny states how, ”they couldn’t use that trick forever, so for us in the forties, they’ve cooked up this war fake.” Phineas of course denies the existence of the war with his inner logic, seeming sensible and realistic This constant self-justification is proof that Finny really does not even believe the theories himself. He is just using them as a shield to avoid his own reality. He asserts this theory again when Mr. Ludsbury talks of the war. Finny explains that Ludsbury believes in the war because he is “Too thin, Of course.” This is going back on his former idea that “fat old men” created the war, and contrasting Ludsbury to these men Mr. Ludsbury is a symbol for the rest of Devon, and even the rest of the world. Everyone believes in the war but Finny, he is alone in his theories because he needs protection, The theories of ”fat old men” give a sense of justification to Finny that he is not needed in the war, even though he would love to participate.

It kills Finny to sit at home without the wart Phineas also denies the fact that he fell directly because of Gene jouncing the limb. Finny does begin after his injury to suspect Gene by having a “crazy idea, I must have been delirioust. This is immediately dismissed by Phineas however, as it could ruin their friendship Finny chooses not to pursue this topic because it would get him nowhere, much like accepting the wart Nothing could be done to change the past at this pointt As response to Gene’s visit and confession, Finny asserts, ” “Of course, you didn’t do it, You damn fool, Sit down, you damn fool.” No matter how Gene tries to approach the topic with finny, his feelings of disbelief will not budgei He is completely denying this fact because Gene is his only true friend, which could be ruined for him if it were true. After his final accident and before his untimely death, Finny does eventually accept the harsh reality of his situation. He acknowledges the existence of the war. After Leper’s ordeal Finny realizes that “If a war can drive somebody crazy, then it’s real all right! Oh I guess I always knew, but I didn’t have to admit it”

The war had then personally affected one of Phineas’s close friends, forcing the reality of it onto him Finny could no longer lie to himself and others about the war. He lied about the war because he could not participate in it, “I’ll hate it everywhere if I’m not in this war! Why do you think I kept saying there wasn’t any war all winter?” Finny’s leg injury prevented his probable experience in the war, a great athlete like Finny’s past self would have been perfect for the war, but all of his chances were ruined when he was jounced by the limb finny accepts that Gene caused all of this, all of his pain and suffering was due to Gene. After his second fall when Gene attempts a late-night visit, Finny yells, “You want to break something else in me! Is that why you’re here!” It is notjust limbs however that were broken due to Gene. Finny’s chances at life, a future, and a normal high school were all ruined as well. Fortunately, Finny holds no grudges on his deathbed, accepting and giving reason to why did what he did. Finny explains how ” It wasn’t anything you really felt against me, it wasn’t some kind of hate you’ve felt all along It wasn’t anything personal.”

Finny eventually understands the subconscious feelings that Gene has been having. He accepts this fact knowing that Gene is not to blame, and should not feel sorrow towards Finny His short dreamy life ends as a realist, with no regrets or qualms against his killer. In his short life, Phineas can be divided into three stages of acceptance. A dreamer, in denial, and finally a realist. His crippling injury took away his childish perspective, and forced his hiding and lies, His second injury removed his shields and forced an acceptance of harsh reality. Seeing life from a different perspective, whether it be a cripple or a realist can give people an entirely different mindset for determining what is important, and what can be easily forgiven.

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Phineas as a Victim of High School Changes in A Separate Peace by John Knowles. (2023, Apr 06). Retrieved from

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