Sunday, March 6, 2011

Critical Article Summaries

James Ellis on Innocence and Envy

            The critical view written by James Ellis shows the transition of the novel, A Separate Peace, from peace to ‘war’, as well as the darkness of the human heart. Ellis explains how the novel goes from peace innocence in the summer to a war of emotions (specifically envy) in the winter. During the summer months at school, Gene and Finny become close friends. Finny represents the innocence of the boys. Phineas turns the signs of war around them into boyish delights.  As the novel progresses, Gene’s envy of Finny grows from a small amount to a large amount. Part of Gene wants to see Finny fail. This takes us to the ‘war’ of the novel and the darkness that lies within the human heart. After building up so much hatred towards the innocence of Phineas, Gene pushes him out of a tree. Due to this act, the fall session of school starts with the absence of Finny. Gene finds that the peace there was in the summer has left with Finny. The peace that was once there has been replaced by rules. Gene is no longer himself because of his guilt. When Phineas returns to the school, Gene says that he will enlist into the army to pay for his own evil that he conflicted on Finny. After talking to Phineas about enlisting, Gene can see that Finny and he need each other. So Gene does not go to war. Finny then teaches Gene about being an athlete. Gene realizes along the way that he has become like Phineas and shares some of the innocence which Finny has within. Phineas’ life helped Gene to, “survive his fall from innocence.’ (Ellis). Having known and loved Phineas helps Gene see the good and the pureness in life. Phineas chose to see the good over the bad, because of this Gene realizes that the enemy of ‘war’ is not from without, but from within. James Ellis outlines the theme of innocence and envy within the book, as it goes from peace to war and the importance of overcoming the evil that lies within.

                      Marvin E. Mengeling on Meaning and Myth

            The critical article written by Marvin E. Mengeling shows the representation of a godly figure in Phineas. Phineas portrays God in the novel. More specifically, the Greek God Phoebus Apollo. Phoebus was young, handsome, and athletic. As well, he was a healer. Not the traditional sense of a healer, but one, “who taught the correct procedures for avoiding evil ills, superstitions, and fear.” (Mengeling). All four of these traits were shown by Phineas at some point throughout the book. As well, both believed that you should not lie, and that the truth was key to strive for harmony in life. Phineas thought that you should always win at sports, but it wasn’t about the competition. It was about doing the best you could do; the struggle within yourself; no fear and no ego.  This again shows the want of accomplishing perfect harmony in life within yourself. The Greek women had a festival called the Dionysian Festive. During this festival, women would go into the mountains and drink and dance to be reborn. In the middle of all this they would do a live sacrifice. The women would then eat their victim. This festival is a lot like the carnival described in the novel. During the carnival, the boys partied and danced away their fear. They also jumped Breaker (like a sacrifice) and stole his cider and drank it. Phineas has to die in the novel. He did. He needed to die like all gods must because it is in a gods’ nature to be in spiritual form. Another reason is that a world is no place for someone as pure and powerful as they (gods) are. When Phineas dies, he passes his spirit and code to Gene. All the negativity that was inside of Gene is now gone and replaced with friendship, loyalty and love. In a way, Phineas suffered the crippling injury so Gene would not have to. Throughout the critical essay, written by Marvin E. Mengeling, he shows the strong connection of Greek Gods and ancient Greek festivals to the character Phineas. Also he shows the relationship and symbols of how A Separate Peace and myths from ancient Greece intertwine.

James Holt McGavran on Male Bonding in the Novel

       The critical article written by James Holt McGavran tries to convince the reader that Gene and Phineas are homosexuals and are in love with one another. Although there are no physical acts of love, the boys are in love with one another but do not say it because of something called homosexual panic. The theory of homosexual panic is that a male will not admit to being a homosexual because of a fear of not being accepted. This is common for teen boys. In the novel there is no talk about the boys’ sexual orientation, but McGravran insists on the idea of the boys being gay. Some examples pulled out of the book to try and prove this point are: the mood at the carnival, they were roommates, and they would play fight. Throughout the book Gene talks about Phineas’ physical appearance and takes notice of his beauty. The night at the beach was another example of their mutual love and desire. Also Finny does not want Gene to go to war; Phineas needs Gene. Hours before Phineas’ death they share an intense, emotional conversation about Gene pushing him out of a tree. The conversation ends with Gene “offering” himself to him. Due to Finny and Gene’s special bond, McGavran believes that Gene and Finny are more than just best pals. McGavran believes that if Phineas had not died, they would have ended up participating in sexual relations. James Holt McGraven reads deep in between the lines in order to try and convince the reader that Gene and Phineas are homosexuals and in love with one another.   

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