Books and Movies Reviews

Theme Analysis

As with most novels, it is best to begin a discussion of thematics by examining the title. The phrase, “a separate peace,” is mentioned once in the novel when, speaking of the Winter Carnival, Gene writes: “it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace” (128). The Devon of 1942 and 1943 is, at times, a haven of peace and forgetfulness for Gene and his classmates. And it is significant that it is termed a “separate peace” because it indicates that the peace achieved is not part of the surrounding reality, which, for Gene, is a world of conflict, a world at war. The joy that the older Gene remembers upon re-visiting Devon is due to such momentary periods of complete freedom achieved during the summer of 1942 and the following schoolyear, moments when a sixteen year-old could live without conflict or rules, and forget about the encroaching reality of a world war.
The novel is about a young man’s struggle to achieve and maintain such a separate peace. And although the setting is in an America in the midst of war, the focus of the novel is internal. For the majority of the plot, the distant war is an illusion for the students in Gene’s class, and for the reader, the war becomes the biggest metaphor of the novel: a metaphor for the internal conflict of a sixteen-year old boy. Gene’s soul becomes a battleground where jealousy, fear, love, and hatred combat for control of his actions. And amidst the turmoil of adolescence, it is the victory of the dark forces of human nature that make Gene realize that each person is alone with his enemy, that the only significant wars are not made by external causes, but “by something ignorant in the human heart” (193). Thus, Finny’s fantastic assertion that World War II is an illusion maintains a certain truth in light the real war that occurs in the story.

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