Saturday, February 26, 2011

Survey of Author

The title of the book I am studying is called, A Separate Peace. The author of the book is American John Knowles.

            The author is not what made me interested in the book, but rather the book itself. This was John’s first published book and he was never able to match the success of A Separate Peace. This book is considered an American classic and is used in many high schools for study. As well, there are a lot of critical articles on this book that makes my analysis of the book easier to do. From reading the book, I have learned a little bit about the author’s style of writing and do enjoy reading it. He keeps the plot simple and allows the reader to connect to the characters.

            Knowles was born in September of 1926 and was the third born child. His father was the vice president of a coal company. When Knowles was 15, he went to a boarding school in New Hampshire and graduated from the school in 1945. After 8 months with the USA army, Knowles went to Yale and worked with the school newspaper. After school Knowles spent some time traveling Europe, before moving to New York City where he wrote for many magazines including Cosmopolitan. In 1959, Knowles first book, A Separate Peace, was published and became very successful. Again Knowles spent some time in Europe as well as the Middle East. With success of A Separate Peace, John was able to become a full time writer. None of John’s ten other books ever reached the same success of his first one. Knowles died in his Florida house in 2001 (at the age of 75), after battling a brief illness.  

            John Knowles published ten other novels. Morning in Antibes was his second published novel and was the first of his Mediterranean novels. Double Vision: American Thoughts Abroad was published in 1964. The book was a chronicle of his two-year travels to Europe and the Middle-East. Indian Summer was Knowles fourth published novel. This one also had some success. Knowles other books include: Phineas: Six Stories (1968), The Paragon (1971), Spreading Fires (1974), A Vein of Riches (1978), Peace Breaks Out (1981), A Stolen Past (1983) and The Private Life of Axie Reed (1986). There were two genres that Knowles liked to write about. One genre is prep school fiction. He enjoyed writing novels about people who are coming of age. A Separate Peace, for example, tells a story of teenage boys coming of age during a time of war. The other genre used by Knowles was Mediterranean. Again, fiction.

            In 1941, Knowles attended a boarding school in New Hampshire called Exeter. This school became the setting for his first book, A Separate Peace. As well, in his first novel, Knowles uses the same time period he would have been in boarding school, which was during WWII. Another big influence on Knowles’ writing was his trip to the Middle East. This trip was his inspiration to writing a series of Mediterranean novels. The book A Vein of Riches was about the coal mining business, which was the business Knowles’ father was a part of. The school Exeter was a lot like the school used in A Separate Peace. Both schools had the rivers, the English-style buildings, and the playing fields. In fact, you could say they were the same school due to all the similarities used in the novel. Both schools have the focus on scholarly work and athletics. The time period of WWII was also the same as Johns real life experience. Knowles has said that each character in his first novel has a little bit of him in them. As well, their experiences that they have at the school, is loosely based on Knowles own experience at boarding school. Even including similar clubs he was involved with.
           John Knowles like to write books loosely based on his life and experiences. For most of his books there was a Mediterranean theme to it. This is due to the time Knowles spent in the Middle East. Knowles also liked to tell a story about a tragic hero and jealously. For example, in A Separate Peace, Finny is the tragic hero; a good scholar and a natural athlete, until his best friend gives him a ‘crippling’ blow. Finny’s best friend Gene provides what is the jealously in this novel, as he can no longer take Finny’s innocence.

            John Knowles most successful book is A Separate Peace.  This book was about a boys prep school and told a story of boys be coming of age. This book was published eight years after A Catcher in the Rye. A Catcher in the Rye also told a story of boys in prep school, becoming of age. Due to the similar theme both books have, John Knowles was often compared to the author of A Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger. Even though the books were very different in style, structure and subject manner, critics often compared the two because of the similar theme both books have.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book Choice Submission

                The book I chose to read is called, A Separate Peace by John Knowles. The book was published in 1959 and has 192 pages. However, the story itself goes from page 9 to page 176.
                When we first starting choosing books, I was recommended a book called, The Wars. When I went to the Library to get a copy, Ms. Woelfl recommended A Separate Peace over the first novel due to the fact that A Separate Peace had more secondary sources. So I took both books home and read a bit of each. Unfortunately, for me, one book did not stand out over the other one, but based on the fact of how easy it was to find secondary sources, I chose A Separate Peace.

                It’s hard to get a good grasp on the novel because I am only five pages in so far. However from what I read, I do like this book. The author, John Knowles, is able to paint a mental picture using descriptive words, as well as give me a feel for the time the book takes place. The author, in the first few pages, stresses the changes in one’s life (in this case, the main character) after finishing school; as the main character reflects on his, almost haunting, past.  

                I have only read 5 pages, but as I go along, after every page, I write down a couple of points to summarize what I have just read. I believe in doing this, it will give me an advantage in later assignments in the Independent Study Project. Since the book is a shorter book, it will also help me pin point certain important events that occur throughout the novel.

                The book is written in first person and starts off with the main character taking a trip through time. The main character returns to his old school (Devon School) and reflects on the time when he had attended the school, 15 years before.  It starts off in the fall season, in New England, New Hampshire. The main character mentions a few times about the fear back then. He mentions how Devon is a very athletic and scholarly school. However he is not just visiting the school, but also a place called the Cage. He takes us to a place just outside the school yard. It’s a woodsy area, with a river behind the trees. There is only a couple trees along the bank of the river, and he is looking for one I particular, which he finds. He can tell this tree apart due to the markings on the trunk, as well as a branch that extends above the river. It is a cold, wet day out as the main character reflects. He also mentions a childhood friend briefly; his name is Phineas and describes him of having no fear.

                Being only five pages in, it is hard to really identify a true theme. However I was able to pick out a few different ideas on different themes that might occur throughout the story. You get the feeling (as the character reflects), that there was an uncertainty in the past; whereas now, everything seems much more clear. Almost like there were things in the past ‘haunting’ the character. As well, the character mentions that there was a high degree of fear in the past. This could do with the fact that when this character attended Devon, World War II was in full swing. As well, there is a sense of transformation as one goes from being a teen to becoming a man. I believe the author is trying to show how hard it can be to ‘fit’ in. As well as show the fear and transformations in a person as they make some of the biggest decisions in their life (like whether or not to join the fight in WWII).

                I have yet to begin looking for secondary sources on my novel, but I have been told that there is two bloom books on this novel in our library. When the next week begins, I plan on grabbing both bloom books on this novel, to use on my independent study.

                “I was thankful, very thankful that I had seen it. So the more things remain the same, the more they change after all.” (page 13, Knowles)
                To me, this sentence really makes you think. What I get from this sentence is the more things stay the same, the more you realize how much you’ve changed as a person and how much your life has changed from the past. Things that once meant so much now seem like a novelty. You remember things a certain way, and they are still the same way you remember them but the area doesn’t feel like it did in your memory. You look for what has changed in you to make things different from what has happened to now.

James Ellis, excerpt from “A Separate Peace: The Fall from Innocence,” The English Journal, vol. LIII, no. 5, May 1964, pp. 313-318. Reprinted with permission. Bloom, Harold, ed. Bloom's Guides. New York: Infobase, 2008. Print. John Knowles' A Separate Peace.

James L. McDonald, “The Novels of John Knowles.” Reprinted from Arizona Quarterly 25.4 (1967) pp. 335-342 by permission of the Regents of The University of Arizona. Bloom, Harold, ed. Bloom's Guides. New York: Infobase, 2008. Print. John Knowles' A Separate Peace.

Paul Witherington, “A Separate Peace:  A Study in Structural Ambiguity.” From The English Journal 54, no. 9 (December 1969): pp.795-800. Reprinted by permission. Bloom, Harold, ed. Bloom's Guides. New York: Infobase, 2008. Print. John Knowles' A Separate Peace.