Theme Of Compassion In A Separate Peace

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Compassion plays a significant role in everyone’s lives: it is what parents teach their children from a young age, it is how people spread human kindness, it is the catalyst for friendships and love. Compassion is simultaneously what fuels the lives of individuals and what shapes the lives of those around them. In times of war or united struggle, though, compassion becomes harder to come by. John Knowles, author of the historical fiction novel A Separate Peace, demonstrates the toll war takes on one’s soul through it’s main character, Gene Forrester. As World War II continues amidst the events Gene encounters at Devon School, the reader observes Gene’s transformation into an apathetic human being through his distrusting of others, actions…show more content…
His concern for his friend reveals that Gene was a perfectly compassionate being at the beginning of the book, and therefore something else killed that part of him. The culprit for such murder of the heart is obvious: the war. Gene and his peers were brought up in the thick of World War II. Everything they did revolved around the idea that they would one day become soldiers. Under the influence of such an idea, Gene is able to make connections with normal activities and the war. For instance, Gene compares the war and sports, claiming, “I didn’t trust myself in them[sports], and I didn’t trust anyone else. It was as though football players were really bent on crushing the life out of each other, as though boxers were in combat to the death, as though even a tennis ball might turn into a bullet” (Knowles, 84). Gene’s comparison speaks to the cynical outlook war creates in men. This instance in particular demonstrates that once fun and even stress-reducing pastimes become threats in the eyes of a soldier. Gene, in a similar way, perceives sports players on being hell-bent on killing him. His inability to trust others ultimately leads to a reluctance in being compassionate, as helping others—in his brainwashed mind—will jeopardize his own safety. Gene’s lack of empathy is especially evident through his actions in the concluding chapters of the book. When Phineas, Gene’s best friend, dies, he narrates, “I did
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