The journey from the land of innocence to that of knowledge and maturity has no return path, and perhaps that’s what keeps us yearning for the innocent days, like the neverland that never will be.
I have to reference To kill a mocking bird (which is most popular among books that deal with innocence and loss of innocence), which presented an outlook to life and society, that only kids with their unadulterated minds can have. It showed, what we can be, highlighted how much away from it we are.
A separate peace, does not set out to do all these. Instead, it is about the journey of Gene, from the perfect innocent world of a kid/pre-teen to the real one. John Knowles, has penned down the turbulent feelings that Gene and you and me, have invariably gone through, as we understand ourselves, our society and the world as a whole.
Knowles, tells the story in a simple setting, that of high school boys, a year away from enlisting in the war (world war- II), and a small incident that takes place in the school, which changes forever, the nice little joyous world of Gene and Finny and Leper and Binker and reminds us of our younger days.
The book is a work of art in detailed character sketching. Most of the book, is written so as to dissect the thought process of a confused teenager, unsure of himself. Each event, has been described through the ambivalent and mixed feelings that we have had, when what we believe and what we see don’t match up, and then we think differently, take a different standpoint, and end up contradicting ourselves again, and continue an inner turmoil to achieve our mental peace.
As I read the book, I connected with a lot of feelings that Gene went through. It was as though, I read the book on two different planes, whilst a part of my brain, connected the dots in the book, another traced dots previously connected when I was 13-14-15-16 years old.
Phineas, is the unspoiled, untarnished character, preserving his innocence and inner peace. In the whole book, the only character to stay clear of confusions and ambivalence is Phineas. Gene, the narrator, on the other hand, is in the center of turbulence. The book traces the thoughts of Gene, slowly as maturity and understanding creeps into him, and how he fights himself to hold on to the insane and playful and irresponsible thoughts of Phineas, which reminds him of how he was not so long ago, and how he yearns to be forever.
The death of Finny, is the touch of brilliance in the book, as Knowles, leads Gene and the readers through the point of no return. It is the coming-of-age of Gene, as he finally loses all contact with Finny and his innocence, and faces the reality, the war.
Brilliant also, is the fact that Knowles has used 16 year old boys, enjoying school, but looking forward to war. The war looming ahead, and the last few days of fun in the school, symbolic of the inner journey, from the peace of innocence to the violent cruel mature world.
Quoting the book:
Everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him. It is the moment when his emotions achieve their most powerful sway over him, and afterward when you say to this person “the world today” or “life” or “reality” he will assume that you mean this moment, even if it is fifty years past. The world, through his unleashed emotions, imprinted upon him, and he carries the stamp of that passing moment forever
Words so beautifully woven together, but read deeply, and I am sure you will not find it hard to find that moment in your lives. It may not be a moment, but a few events here and there, which are the pillars of the bridge to the journey I have been referring to.
A truly marvelous book, an amazing read, a book for your collections.