Gene has a huge ego. His life revolves around competition. Everyday life is transformed to a constant war with everyone around him. He sees everyone he encounters as his rivals and enemies. He says about sports, “It was as though football players were really bent on crushing the life out of each other……as though even a tennis ball might turn into a bullet”. (Knowles pp. 84) Gene sees matters of life and death in harmless games of sports. Gene is never comfortable with his own identity. He is envious of those who are better than him and treat them as enemies.
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He grows extremely jealous of Finny for his athletic talents and ability to flout the rules. He cannot bear to feel inferior to anyone, even his friend; they are all his enemies. He is determined to be better than Finny in academics, in order to not feel inferior to Finny. Being the best in academics would equate Gene with Finny, who was best in athletics. Gene imagines that Finny is no less selfish than him and that they both hated each other in their rivalry. He imagines Finny is only pretending to be his friend to sabotage him. Gene interprets all of Finny’s actions as made in rivalry to him.
Finny actually thinks of him as his best friend and never saw him as an enemy. Gene’s later discovery that Finny genuinely wants him to do well destroys the balance of his world, in which they both are enemies competing against each other. So Finny is better not only athletically but as a good person. Always feeling inferior, Gene is jealous and envious to the point that a codependent relationship is made possible. Lacking an identity and enviously seeing only Finny’s superior morals and talents, he would give anything to not feel inferior to Finny. Gene is in a position hat he desires Finny’s identity so much that he would enter into a codependent relationship with Finny to obtain his identity. Gene wants the qualities of Finny that he lacks. At the same time, Finny struggles with insecurity after his fall. Having shattered his leg, he cannot help but feel insecure about himself. His identity is shattered by the reality that he can no longer continue being the star athlete he was and achieve his dream of being a soldier. Being unable to carry out his dreams in his own physical body, he is forced to carry them out through the medium of Gene as an extension of himself.
Throwing himself into a codependent relationship is Finny’s way of ridding himself of his insecurity and living a normal life through Gene. It would be as if the accident had never occurred. Finny needing to live his former life through someone and Gene’s desire to take on Finny’s identity makes way for a codependent relationship to form. Codependency becomes an obstacle to the creation of a separate identity. Finny’s fall provides the perfect time for the codependency to start. Both sides have something they want and can give in return.
Gene wants Finny’s identity for the qualities that he admires in Finny but lacks himself. Finny wants to be able to live his life as an athlete through someone who acts as extension of Finny. Gene and Finny can satisfy each other’s desires. Since both people are receiving what they want in a codependent relationship they are content and happy with their life. There is no need to look inwards and examine oneself or improve oneself. After putting on Finny’s pink shirt, Gene says, “When I looked in the mirror it was no remote aristocrat I had become, no character out of daydreams.
I was Phineas, Phineas to the life. … I had no idea why this gave me such intense relief, but it seemed, standing there in Finny’s triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusion of my own character again. ” (pp. 62). Gene feels happy that he has completely taken on Finny’s superior identity and escaped from who he is with all his issues. A false feeling of completeness and contentment prevent Gene from forming his own identity. Only after codependency is broken, can an individual identity emerge. Gene and Finny’s codependency is ended after Finny’s sudden death.
Gene starts to re-examine himself, his thoughts and his emotions. Finally Gene puts things into perspective (Slethaug). Gene’s life from the start of his friendship with Finny has revolved around Finny. Everything he did, felt, thought about regarded Finny. His goal of becoming best in the class, and his envy were the result of Finny. Finny was the column, the foundation that supported and shaped his life. The foundation crumbles away with Finny’s death and Gene’s life comes crashing down. He can no longer depend on Finny to dictate his emotions, his thoughts and to serve as an idol he must surpass.
With Finny gone, Gene now sees the foolishness and illusion he had been living in and the reality of life. He realizes that many of the enemies he had seen were the product of his own fear. He knows that Finny was a genuine and true friend who meant the best for him. Gene realizes that fear of everything had led to his seeing enemies in friends and that it was harmful. He sees that his fear had led him to feel threatened by a fearless Finny and his jealousy. His fear had made him feel that everyone was out to get him. Most importantly this fear had led him to seriously cripple Phineas and in the end led to Finny’s death.
His guilt at having had a direct role in Finny’s death leads to him seeing the illogicality of fearing the world, the unknown, the imaginary enemy. He has escaped from his fear of the world, and matured into an adult in the process. Only now when he no longer fears anything or anyone, can Gene focus on himself and forge an identity. Only now when he does not see in everyone some quality that he lacks can he truly sees his own strengths and vulnerabilities and take them lightly. Gene can focus on forging his own identity when he other people’s identities no longer interest him.
Phineas teaches Gene that in this world there is more than just evil, and war but also peace and good. Everyone is capable of good and evil. When Gene discovers that he like Finny is capable of good, he can overcome his guilt about his sin and find lasting peace within himself. Gene realizes that his hatred and jealousy is “something ignorant in the human heart” and is within him and also brings about wars. Only by reconciling himself with the fact of the existence of this evil within him can Gene realize that his own true enemy is not someone like Finny but in fact himself.
He knows now that he had been seeing himself in everyone else. By coming to know his evil, he can come to know himself and his own identity. Gene by coming to know this evil within him can understand now the ideas of peace and love and the true value of friendship. Gene says of his time at Devon, “my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there. ” (pp. 204) Gene has killed the hate, the evil, the fear within his heart that often causes wars. By killing the fear within him, he has defeated his own private demons.
Gene has come to see that this enemy never comes from without, but always from within. He knows, moreover, that there is no defense to be built, only an acceptance and purification of oneself through love. (Ellis) Gene has matured and discovered his own identity after his codependent relationship is forcibly severed. In A Separate Peace, the author first shows how the codependency between Gene and Finny is formed. Later the author shows how Gene finally finds his own identity after the codependency is broken. Works Cited Knowles, John. A Separate Peace.