The best friendships are those that have survived the test of time, change, and conflict. The author of A Separate Peace, John Knowles has established a twisting conflict about friendship throughout the novel. The conflict is about the two main characters of the book, Gene an intellectual introvert, and Finny, a loquacious athletic boy. But the conflict lies within Gene’s own mind. You could start to wonder how two different types of people would become best friends. In Gene’s point of view, their friendship is based on competition, envy, and codependency. Shortly after Finny’s fall, it’s like Gene became an entirely different person. His personality transformed into a new version of himself.
When there is competitiveness in a friendship, everything could get ugly. Instead of dealing with it positively, Gene doesn’t respond in a good way. Even if there was no competition. Gene was the kind of person who would get straight A’s. On the other side, his athletics were not as good as his academics. If Finny didn’t drag Gene to go outside, Gene would stay in his room with his nose in his book all day. Now Finny was an outstanding athlete. He started swimming for just one or two days and he beat the school swimming record. That just showed how much talent Finny had; especially because their boarding school was best known for sports. But his academics couldn’t even compete with his sports area. “You did hate him for breaking that school swimming record, but so what? He hated you for getting an A in every course but one last term.” (Knowles, 53) They were both jealous of each other’s strengths that they couldn’t have themselves. “I could tell that because the obstinate, competitive look left his face as his mind became engaged for the first time.” (169) Each time one of them got a remarkable achievement, they wanted to work harder and try to beat each other.
Friends are not supposed to envy each other; they’re supposed to admire or be happy for them. “I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything. I couldn’t help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little.” (25) It didn’t take long for Gene to start feeling jealous of how easily things come for Finny. Gene envied his charisma. Gene began to imagine that Finny was just as jealous of him and that Finny was deliberately sabotaging his studies.
Gene was a pessimist. So he thought that Phineas was jealous of him and that he hated him. But instead, Gene was the one who envied his friend which resulted in him on doing something he regretted. “Only Phineas never hated anyone.” (204) He did the unthinkable by shaking Finny off the tree branch when he wasn’t paying attention. Phineas was the only one who had a kind heart. Gene seemed to be the only one who turned everything into a bad thing. Gene sabotaged Finny’s dream on being an athlete and attending the 1944 Olympics.
I had a similar conflict between my sister and me. When she kept on telling my mom that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing, I thought she was trying to sabotage me enjoying my life. But as I grew older, I began to realize that she was doing that for my own good, guiding me along the paths of my life.
Our conflicts aren’t entirely similar, but it establishes the same idea. In Gene’s point of view, their friendship is based on competition, envy, and codependency. Once Finny began to acknowledge that Gene was the one who caused the accident, he was disappointed and heartbroken. While Finny was gone, Gene tried on his clothes. For a moment, Gene felt free, daring, and confident, just like Finny. He ‘replaced’ Finny by wearing his personalities. Gene wasn’t the only one who was a part of Finny. In fact, Finny trained Gene enthusiastically as if Gene were a part of himself. Gene felt Finny’s identification and responds in return by becoming a part of Finny. Gene and Finny had been getting along really well after Gene realizes that Finny never hated him. But would Finny ever forgive Gene for ruining his dream? After all, what is life without friends?