A Separate Peace

Themes and Colors
War and Rivalry Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Change and Growing Up Theme Icon
Optimism, Idealization, and Denial Theme Icon
Friendship and Honesty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Separate Peace, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

John Knowles’s A Separate Peace is a novel about violence and rancor even though Gene, its protagonist, never actually faces battle. The book begins as news of World War II sweeps over Gene and his best friend, Finny, infiltrating their final summer term and academic year at the Devon School. Despite the constant presence of the war, though, Finny and Gene exist in the halcyon days of youthful innocence, focusing on schoolboy…

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A Separate Peace showcases the process of identity formation. Gene makes his way through several identities in an attempt to define himself in relation to his surroundings. Although he experiments with multiple personas (the athlete, the intellectual, the daredevil, etc.), the most prominent identity that he adopts is arguably that of Finny’s best friend. Investing himself in their friendship, Gene closely associates himself with Finny, feeling proud that he’s his closest friend. However, defining…

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John Knowles’s A Separate Peace is a story about the ways in which time and maturity can change a person’s perspective on the past. At the beginning of the novel, Gene visits the Devon School for the first time in 15 years. When he arrives, he realizes that he has always thought of the school itself as frozen in time. By association, then, he has also considered his experiences at the school as immutably stuck…

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In A Separate Peace, John Knowles examines optimism, suggesting that it can sometimes lead to denial. As someone who makes the best of any situation, Finny focuses only on what he thinks is good. He deeply appreciates the purity of athletics, thinking that sports are an “absolute good” and believing that everyone always wins whenever they play sports, since the mere act of taking part in such activities is rewarding in and of itself…

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More than anything, A Separate Peace is a novel about friendship—its joys, its benefits, its limits. Gene and Finny’s relationship is unique, shot through with both childish simplicity and a complex tenderness they don’t always know how to navigate. To add to this already intricate dynamic, envy and competition often work their way into the friendship, and this is what ultimately threatens their bond. Throughout the novel, Gene tries to sort out his feelings…

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