Friendship can be defined in various ways. For Phineas and Gene, two boys that attend Devon School together, the word friendship has been a continuous struggle to define. A Separate Peace embodies two antithetical perspectives through the narrator, and main character, Gene. This novel illustrates the personal struggle within the characters, and also the conflicts that face some residents at Devon. The author, John Knowles, uses many literary elements to accentuate the countless layers within the story, such as foreshadowing, metaphors, and juxtaposition.
Foreshadowing is a key element to any great story, but for this one it serves as more than just a hint to what actions are to come. The foreshadowing in A Separate Peace is a dire element to the progression of the story. “Although they were old stairs, the worn moons in the middle of each step were not very deep. The marble must be unusually hard. That seemed very likely, only too likely, although with all my thought about these stairs this exceptional hardness had not occurred to me. It was surprising that I had overlooked that crucial fact.” (Knowles 3) These lines specifically and purposefully drew a lot of attention to the stairs to not only foreshadow the later event of Finny breaking his leg for a second time, but also to show the affect it had on Gene. The marble staircase didn’t only symbolize Finny’s second leg injury to Gene, but also the eventual death from bone marrow that it led to. With just those four lines the reader can interpret that there will be a later event occurring on the marble staircase.
Authors like John Knowles know how to correctly use and manipulate literary elements to their advantage. In A Separate Peace specifically it adds a sort of ominous undertone to the story as the reader interprets it, and it accompanies the surface level story very well. The metaphors in this story are used in the same way. By comparing things such as "a separate peace," when speaking of the Winter Carnival, Gene wrote "it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace" (Knowles 128). The Devon school of 1942 and 1943 is, occasionally, a haven of peace and absent-mindedness for Gene and his classmates. It’s significant that it is termed a "separate peace" because it illustrates that the peace attained is not part of the surrounding reality, which, for Gene, is a world of conflict, a world engulfed by war. Knowles allows readers to relate to the story and its contents by metaphors such as those, depicting likeness in the midst of unlikeness.
Juxtaposition, not to be mistaken for metaphors, offers the reader the same sort of element to the story but doesn’t compare two unrelated things. Instead juxtaposition places two things side by side to symbolize the differences, but shows the intention of placing those two things together. For example Gene writes "those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but that they are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age" (Knowles 6). Gene called the tree by the river a “shrunken giant” to illustrate the perspective of Gene currently, and also when he attended Devon as a student. Knowles intentionally chose those two words because it was almost as Gene’s outlook and opinion of the tree was expressed in that one phrase.
When narratives like A Separate Peace are written with literary devices such as foreshadowing, metaphors, and juxtaposition, and with the knowledge of how to correctly manipulate them, the novels offer the audience not only a good surface level story, but also a great deeper meaning and relevance to the story that can’t be duplicated. John Knowles wrote A Separate Peace with not only the ability to do that, but the perseverance to where the literary devices play a subtle but drastic role in the novel. This bildungsroman perfectly embodies Gene’s changing perspective on Devon and the events that occurred there, and with age all of his uncertainties and worries were resolved.