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Oct. 16th: A Separate Peace

Updated: Oct 13

A Separate Peace, John Knowles

Optional supplement: A Tree of Panic in A Separate Peace, Judy Sansom


Summary: Published in 1959, A Separate Peace is a coming of age story set against the backdrop of WWII. The novel follows Gene Forrester, now an adult, as he reflects on his time at Devon Preparatory School in 1942. Gene, distinguished by his intellect, befriends Finny, a student with impressive athletic prowess, and the two trudge through a relationship of jealousy, loyalty, admiration, and betrayal.

Disclaimer: A Separate Peace contains references to suicide and scenes of smoking, gambling, and drinking. Profanities occur throughout the book. To read a more detailed account of any difficult content in A Separate Peace, visit this link.




Discussion Questions:

  1. To what extent is Gene an unreliable narrator? Why do you think Knowles chooses to write this novel in the first person?

  2. How can jealousy corrupt morality?

  3. How can codependency in friendship erode one’s sense of individual identity?

  4. How does the power struggle and suffering of WWII mirror Gene’s internal turmoil?

  5. How do Knowles’ language and tone shift as the boys move from the summer semester to the winter semester? What might the seasons symbolize?

  6. Do you find Gene to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

  7. Knowles makes the sweeping statement in the 1st chapter: “Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even death by violence.” What do you think he means by this? Do you think the impermanence of the human condition is meant to be comforting or troubling?

  8. *Bonus exercise* Think of two separate things the tree could symbolize and find a quote to support each.

These questions will guide our discussion. Be sure you have finished reading the book before joining the discussion! Here is a guide on how you should divide your reading:

​Dates

Recommended Work

​September 18 - September 23

Read chapters 1-4

​September 24 - October 1

Read chapters 4-6

October 2 - October 7

Read chapters 7-10

October 7 - October 13

Read chapters 11-13

October 14 - October 16

Review discussion questions




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