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Being uncertain about one’s own identity can lead to dire consequences. Throughout A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Gene is challenged by his friendship with Phineas. Gene jouncing the limb exemplifies how Gene’s uncertainty leads to negative consequences. When on top of the limb, Gene takes a step towards Finny with “his knees bent” and he “jounces the limb”. Finny then tumbles down from the limb, hitting the ground, resulting in a “shattered” leg. This is a physical consequence of Gene being uncertain about who he is.
Not knowing himself causes Gene to become jealous of Finny and uncertain of how he should act towards the people around him. Experiencing jealousy and inferiority towards Finny, Gene jounces the limb in order to know how it feels to be better than Phineas. Gene describes Finny falling as “the first clumsy physical action he had ever seen Finny make”. Finny had always been perfect, always winning in athletics, and always being charming towards his teachers. When he fell marked the first time Gene saw Finny being weak. Since the incident occurred, Gene is afraid to tell Finny the truth. Gene “couldn’t remember” if “he really and definitely and knowingly done it to him after all”, and he is also afraid that the truth would hurt Finny more. Later, Brinker starts a trial for Finny’s injured leg. Gene denies his actions until Leper accuses him as a witness. Finny, shocked by the betrayal of his best friend, plunges out the door, and the next thing Gene hears is “the tumult of Finny’s body falling clumsily down the white marble stairs”. The next day, Dr. Stanpole tells Gene that during Finny’s operation “his heart simply stopped, without a warning”. Gene, being unsure of himself, indirectly causes Finny’s death. The shock of reality causes Finny to lose his mind and tumble down the stairs in tears. Finny loses his innocence and his life, all because of Gene’s struggle to identify who he wants to be. His identity includes how he chooses to act towards his friends, especially Finny. Because he does not know himself, he does not know how to act, and that leads to tragic consequences. Similar to Gene, Leper’s uncertainty of his identity is something seen throughout the book, resulting in dreadful repercussions. At the beginning of the novel, Leper explains how “Skiing isn’t supposed to be fast” and how he prefers to ski slowly. By preferring to ski slowly, Leper reveals how he likes to take things slowly, and to “enjoy himself”.
Later in the book, a recruiter from the US ski troops shows a movie to Leper’s class. Leper saw “skiers in white shrouds winging down virgin slopes”, and these images “glided straight into Leper’s Vermont heart”. Leper now changes from earlier in the book, considering the fast downhill ski troops opposed his old favorite, skiing slow. He comes to a realization, saying, “It’s all right to miss seeing the trees and the countryside and all the other things when you’ve got to be in a hurry”. His view now differs as he decides he is now “going to enlist in these ski troops”. Leper enlists in the ski troops and he is the first person from Devon to enlist. No one hears from Leper until a telegram arrives. It is addressed to Gene. Gene reads, “I have escaped and need help”. Gene, wasting no time, hurries to assist Leper. He reaches him the next day and finds out that Leper leaves the army to avoid getting a Section 8 discharge, which is “for the nuts in the service, the psychos, the Funny Farm candidates”.
Due to Leper struggling with his identity, he puts himself in a situation which changes him for the worse. Enlisting in the war has made “Leper go crazy”. From a quiet friend who enjoys slow skiing, to enlist in the ski troops for fast skiing, Leper’s identity dramatically changes throughout the novel as Leper struggles with it. His great change is not unnoticed by his friends at Devon, as they note, “Leper’s not the little rabbit we used to know any more”. As a result of Leper’s uncertainty of identity, he loses his sanity, causing destruction in his life.
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