Monday, December 12, 2011

A Very Separate Peace

When I first started teaching, John Knowles' novel, A Separate Peace was a part of the curriculum.  When I first read it, I loved it.  Although the world of these students was fairly different from mine, I could still relate to a lot of what they were going through.  However, my students didn't have a clue.  But that's another post.

There is a lot of talk about other Ivy League/Prep School books.  But this is one that I rarely read about in the blogosphere, so I'd like to throw a few bits to the wolves.  Here are some great (if not seemingly superficial) excerpts to consider:

     The Devon faculty had never before experienced a student who combined a calm ignorance of the rules with a wining urge to be good, who seemed to love the school truly and deeply, and never more than when he was breaking the regulations, a model boy who was most comfortable in the truant's corner (16).
Many a pink-shirted patron should enjoy this one:
     Phineas was the essence of this careless peace. [...H]e began to dress, that is he began reaching for whatever clothes were nearest, some of them mine.  Then he stopped to consider, and went over to the dresser.  Out of one of the drawers he lifted a finely woven broadcloth shirt, carefully cut, and very pink.
     "What's that thing?"
     "This," he then answered with some pride, "is going to be my emblem.  Ma sent it up last week.  Did you ever see stuff like this, and a color like this?  It doesn't even button all the way down.  You have to pull it over your head, like this."
     "Over your head?  Pink!  It makes you look like a fairy!"
     He did wear it.  No one else in the school could have done so without some risk of having it torn from his back.  [...]  It was hypnotism.  I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything" (19-20).
He even goes so far as to wear the school tie for his belt--but, of course, gets away with it.

The clothing is interesting, but I think the attitude is what really draws my attention.  Anyone familiar with the novel knows that Phineas is not trying to push buttons or be a jerk.  It's simply who he is.  He's larger than life and unconcerned about what others think of him. Not that he doesn't care about others; he does.  He simply has an innocence in regards to others' opinions of him. 

This is something that a lot of folks try to affect, but it very obviously comes off as affectation.  Finny is their ideal, but, tragically, an ideal they can never reach, because they have already become self-aware.  Maybe that's a good place to stop for this post.  Not sure if I want to tackle that one...

1 comment:

  1. Reading A Separate Peace as a young teenager was a thunderbolt to me, it struck so close to home. My older brother was at Exeter at the time, and I was desparate to follow in his footsteps there. Despite attending summer school there to prapare for admission, the school thought better of it, and I wound up (happily nonetheless) attending one of the lesser Saint Grottlesex Schools, where I became entangled in an emotionally tortured relationship with a golden boy, not unlike the object of the author's affection in ASP. Fortunatey, it did not end in a disastrous accident, but rather only a broken boyhood heart, of which I recovered long ago.