Gene Forrester's difficult journey toward maturity and the adult world is one of the main focuses in the novel, A Separate Peace, by John Knowles. Gene's journey into maturity begins the moment he jounces the limb of the tree. The process continues until he visits the tree, fifteen years later. Gene looks at things in the past. Gene must start to become self-aware, face reality and the future, confront his problems, as well as forgive and accept himself. He must become aware of and understand the person he is, and face the problems in his life.
Only then, does Gene's blissful ignorance change to the mature understanding of the nature of evil inside himself. This long and painful journey begins with this blissful ignorance behind the gates of Devon where Gene is preparing for war. Gene is isolated from the war. He does not yet see the importance of what the war is about and therefore is blinded from it.
He begins the summer session, which is considered "wild and free." He has not yet experienced what the war is like; he is in a "moment of carelessness" and does not see the importance of the war. Gene is immature and he starts to blind himself from the war and what is happening around him. He does not want to think about the war. He only wants to try to find out who he is, and what he his capable of. The first incident that Gene recounts indicates his dislike of Finny's attitude toward authority. Finny wears the school's tie as a belt and dresses in a pink shirt for tea one day.
Gene remarks that Finny is the only person who could 'get away' (Knowles 26) with such an outfit. Gene is jealous and envies Finny's maturity, which he wants to achieve. In addition to Finny's maturity, Finny conceives of the idea that he and Gene should jump from the tree, which is forbidden and only used for senior students. During the first jump, Gene loses his balance and Finny grabs his arm to steady him without thinking.
This moment shows that Gene and Finny are friends and that they would risk their lives for each other. During another jump, Gene jounces the limb and Finny reaches out to him for help; yet Gene allows him to fall, causing him to break his leg. During this moment, we see Gene's jealousy toward Finny. It is here that we start to see Gene's ignorance and his temptation to be the best. Gene begins to feel guilty for his actions and realizes his own jealousy towards Finny.
With the jouncing of the limb, Gene realizes his problems and the true person he is inside. He finally sees the evil and hatred that he has in himself. Fifteen years later, when revisiting the tree, he finally accepts and forgives himself. The journey toward understanding the nature of evil and his true self is a long and painful one. At the end of this long and winding road filled with ditches, difficulties and problems, Gene emerges a mature adult. Gene acknowledges that he jounced the limb and caused Finny's fall.
It is at that moment Gene becomes aware of his inner-self and learns of his true feelings. Gene begins to see the evil that he has not seen and that he is capable of hatred. This revelation comes to him back in his room before he and Finny leave for the tree. It surrounds him with the shock of his true self until he finally reacts by jouncing the limb. Up in the tree, before the two friends are about to make their 'double-jump' (Knowles 53), Gene sees Finny in this new light. He realizes that Finny feels no jealousy or hatred towards him and that Finny is indeed perfect in every way.
Gene begins to feel hatred towards Finny and in a blind instant, he jounces the limb. It is then that Gene becomes aware that only he is the jealous one. Again, he starts to understand the nature of evil. He learns of his animosity and that he really is a savage underneath. During this time, Gene comes to the realization that these feelings of hatred and jealousy are one-sided and this causes Gene to fall dramatically in comparison to Finny (he paints himself black for these feelings and because Finny does not share them, he puts a halo around Finny's head). After the realization of the person he truly is, in his room and up in the tree, Gene must now confront his problems, face reality, and deal with the future.
He must face reality and acknowledge the fact that he is not as great as Finny; that he is his own individual person and that Finny is not as perfect as he thought. Gene must accept the guilt for Finny's difficulties after his injury and must help Finny as a punishment and act of repentance for his deed. Gene does this by 'giving a part of himself to Finny' (Knowles) as we see with the case of sports throughout the rest of the novel - how Gene 'becomes' Finny when it comes to sports. He starts to adapt Finny's qualities, and starts becoming a little more like Finny. He tries to become Finny, but deep inside of himself he knows that this is not possible. Although the above are all of great importance, the greatest hurdle Gene must overcome is learning to live with what he has done.
The final stage of Gene's maturation is his self-acceptance, self-forgiveness and understanding. Complete peace, harmony and balance are attained at this point in the novel. When Gene visits Finny, and tells him that he jounced the limb, Finny replies saying, "I understand Gene, I do, I think I can believe that" (Knowles 165). Gene finally realizes his capacity for hatred, when Finny understands his behaviour, and when Gene conquers this fury, this savagery within him, making room for the true character of Gene. Gene has to accept that he is not perfect and that he, like any other normal being (even Finny), has faults.
Accepting that his innocence has been lost makes him realize that he is normal. Gene moves on to another part of his life and realizes that he can never return to the days of his innocent youth again. He can now become a man, enter the war, the adult world and leave his youth behind. Forgiving himself is the step, which allows Gene to lead a normal life and enter society. By accepting as well as forgiving the person that he is, Gene enables himself to move on and join the adult world. Through his pain and frightening revelations, Gene finally matures and understands the nature of evil inside himself.
Gene's maturation is a long, painful, and difficult process. It reveals a darker side of Gene that he does not necessarily wish to see. It opens up a new light for him, one that he has been blinded from for such a long time. It allows him to completely mature and finally become himself. This step makes Gene a better person.
Gene's maturity takes time, and it is only when he revisits the tree at Devon, fifteen years later that he finally matures and understands who he is inside.