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Home : Studyworld Studynotes : A Separate Peace
A Separate Peace

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STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES :

A Separate Peace

Gender Study:
An essay on A Separate Peace


A common phrase is "boys will be boys", but what would happen if boys could be girls? That idea is the center of this report. Could the story, A Separate Peace, be kept basically the same if the key characters were changed from male to female? I think that idea is true. The lessons that can be derived from the story would be mostly the same, however the plot would change completely.

A Separate Peace is about the trials and hardships in the life of Gene and Phineas during the fall and summer sessions at Devon school.

When the book opens, we are introduced to Gene, the narrator as he starts to spin his woeful story. The reader gets the impression that there were things that Gene wasn’t all that proud of in his past. As the book goes on, we find out that Gene is a conservative person who doesn’t really like to go against the crowd. Gene character is meant to contrast directly with Phineas.

Finny is Gene’s best friend. Finny is outgoing and fun and likes to challenge himself just for the challenge.. "He had won and been proud to win the Galbraith Football Trophy and the Contact Sport award.....(chapter 4)" This quote from chapter four sums up a part of Finny’s personality.  Finny loved sports, athletics and being the best. He liked to challenge himself and sports was one outlet of his energy.

The idea that starts the whole book is the idea of war. The older students jumped out of a certain tree into a river as a form of getting ready for war. Finny decided that he, too, was going to jump out of the tree. After he jumped, Gene felt like he must also, to prove that he is as brave as Finny.  He and Finny are the only two who jump out of the tree. They form a special club named the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. That wasn’t the first time that Finny had persuaded Gene to do something he normally wouldn’t have done.

This whole incident would change if Finny and Gene were girls. First of all, although "nowadays" girls are a lot more into athletics and doing things that used to be classified as only suitable for men to do. I don’t know any girl who would jump off a tree limb into a muddy river. Really, how stupid can that be? It would be unusual to see a girl stripped down in her underwear, teetering precariously on a tree branch ready to jump into a river at midnight. And what was that about mud in the bottom of
the river?!?! "..and planted his feet in the soft mud at the bottom....(chapter 2)" Now really, that’s pretty gross. So, I think that it is safe to say that if females in the present time wouldn’t jump into a river, then females in the forties wouldn’t either, considering that views on women and what women should do were a lot more conservative.

Gene began to feel like the diversions that Finny just saw as fun were really things to keep him away from his academics. He felt like Finny was trying to keep it so that he was better than Gene. So Gene spent extra time studying and started to try and become valedictorian. "...then we would have both come out on top. We would be even, that was all. We would be even....(chapter 4)" This quote demonstrates the animosity growing between Gene and Finny because of Gene’s feeling that Finny was trying to take time away from his studies. This eventually leads to Gene jouncing Finny out of the tree. However, this quote would be very out of place for a woman in the forties.

Intelligence wasn’t stressed among women in the forties. If you were smart, that was great and swell and everything, but if you were a little bit on the slow side, it wasn’t frowned on nearly as much as it is today. And I believe that we’ve already covered the whole issue with sports and women in the forties. It just wasn’t done. In the 1940’s, roles for women were mainly homemakers, and maybe some teachers and nurses. Stress was put on being popular, being attractive, and having a boyfriend.
So now we’ve eliminated the inciting incident of the story, plus the buildup into it. We’ve established that Gene and Finny’s personalities would be completely different. But the basic outline of the plot can still be used.

Assume for a moment that we have, instead of Gene and Finny, we have Jenny and Fran. The book can begin as it does in the original novel. Jenny returns to Devon and is reminiscing. She visits significant places that hold meaningful memories for her. Jenny was a girl who didn’t like to make ripples in the pond, so to speak. She was a cheerleader, but she was not the head cheerleader. Her best friend, Fran, was.

We are introduced to Fran, an sociable, bubbly girl who has a great figure, and great personality, etc. However, she’s not nearly as intellectual as Jenny. Fran is the head cheerleader and is the best acrobat of the whole group. Her boyfriend is the captain of the football team.

Fran and Jenny were with their friends at the swimming pool. Fran decided to try the impossible somersault off the diving board, and of course, she accomplishes it. Fran challenged anyone else to try the dive and Jenny accepted, because she was constantly being dragged into things by Fran.

Eventually, as Fran started to (in Jenny’s mind) coax her away from her studies and more into cheerleading and the Super Diving Society of the Summer Session club, she started to resent Fran more and more, until suddenly, one day in cheerleading practice, Jenny "accidentally" didn’t catch Fran when she vaulted off the top of the pyramid. As a result, Fran broke her leg and could never cheer again.

It’s been my personal observation that guys and girls feeling and views are very different. Take, for instance, the trial that the entire class witnessed in Mrs. Rasul’s room. Most of the girls felt sorry for Hester and immediately sympathized with her and her plight. We could relate to what she was going through and the suffering she must have felt. The guys, on the other hand felt that she was a sinner, and that she put the two men in impossible situations. They fell right into the role of defending the men. This can hold true for any book; if you change the character’s gender, it changes the viewpoints and the plot details. But, as in the book, whichever interpretation you pick, the original message can still stay the same.

So, as you can see, a Separate Peace can be changed from guys to girls without changing the essence of the story. Whether it be Finny and Gene or Jenny and Fran, the outline is the same, although the fine print isn’t. I think that I personally could relate more to a story with girls in it, but then again, guys could relate more to a story with guys in it. So it is a trade-off on which version would be better. But the bottom line is that the character’s gender doesn’t matter. The underlying message is the same in either situation.



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