“The tree was not only stripped by the cold season, it seemed weary from age, enfeebled, dry. I was thankful, very thankful that I had seen it. So the more things remain the same, the more they change after all [….] Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence.”
A year out of my high school graduation, the campus that had been the center of my life for four years seemed strange although it was very much the same. Five years out of graduation and I know that any attempts at a visit would show that the campus is infinitely different despite the fact that I know I could easily re-locate my lockers from each year. That’s just how it is. The layout is no different from how it used to be, and for the most part, most of my teachers remain—but it’s the slow rate of change in the physicality of a place and the fast rate of growth in a person that roots Gene Forrester in the idea: Nothing endures.
If you don’t know who Gene Forrester is, then you’re really missing out because his story turns a whopping 60 years old this year. A Separate Peace, written by John Knowles, was published in 1959 by Secker & Warburg and is set during the early years of WWII. Gene and his peers are separated from the war due to their young age and the protective walls of their New England boarding school, Devon. Their summer days are propelled forward by Gene’s charismatic roommate and best friend Phineas—that’s Finny to his good friends, and everyone is a good friend of Finny.
Every day around sunset, the boys jump from a large tree with a limb that hangs over the river. It’s a ritual that is absolutely necessary to kick off each meeting of what Finny calls the Secret Suicide Society. On most occasions, Gene is more than happy to go along with Phineas’ silly ideas, but he’s been burning with suspicion, envy, and insecurity. He climbs the tree with Finny, and jostles the limb. Phineas falls. Summer ends. Winter begins. The war draws nearer.
A Separate Peace is a story about war, but, rather than the one the world wages with each other, it’s about the war that we wage with ourselves.
Fingers crossed that as you walk the halls of your own high school campus after graduation, you’re only pointing out old classrooms and lockers, not the tree where you ruined the life of your best friend. But you know…nothing endures. Nothing but the words on the page anyways. Happy 60th birthday, A Separate Peace!
PRR writer, Cheyenne Lopex
HAVE YOU READ THIS CLASSIC YET?