11/5 – Last Socratic Seminar for A SEPARATE PEACE

A few folks asked me about why there are so many sad books in the English 10H Curriculum. I tried to answer this third hour, but I think I failed. So let me say this here instead: it’s true. There is a lot of sadness in literature more generally. One of the things that truly high quality literature does for us is simple: it causes us to face our humanity in new and striking ways.

Someone asked “why not more uplifting books?” I would say these ARE uplifting books, even though they’re not “happy.” They ask us to look at ourselves, our moral dilemmas, our friendships, our values and think about them deeply. They ask us to grieve the little pettinesses that we often give ourselves to and they ask us to be real in the face of characters who are sometimes braver and better or more terrified and terrible than we are.

ASP (like Peter Pan) often hits home especially hard for sophomores especially because the novel functions as a metaphor for the death of childhood, a death many of you are experiencing in the fullest sense of the word as sophomores.

I’ll also say that this is part of why I teach A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM as our required Shakespeare in this class rather than HAMLET–we need the relief and promise of something light and festive. You will also get to choose humorous books for your memoir literature circles, if you like.

Today is our last ASP seminar.

  • Comments are DISABLED For third hour, who had lots of silences and spaces for people to jump in and the conversation took a lot of prompting from me.
  • Comments are ENABLED for fifth hour.

Remember commenting on the blog is available for regular discussions, but for seminars it is a PRIVILEGE you earn by a super engaged, full, abundant seminar discussion.

Tomorrow is scheduled to be a reading day for LOOKING FOR ALASKA the “before” part.

Also a reminder because two students have gotten stuck in this trap: ACCEPTANCES GO TO YOUR EMAIL along with a note from me that talks about your more significant issues in the paper, when needed. You must, must, must ALWAYS check your EMAIL, not just the document. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again…and again…


7 thoughts on “11/5 – Last Socratic Seminar for A SEPARATE PEACE

  1. Matt Sindt P5

    I was thinking that it’s possible that Finny’s innocence is also his downfall. As we know, Finny represents youth and innocence, he doesn’t dislike anyone. He lives in a world without enemies. What’s sad is that this gift doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you don’t make enemies because someone else can make you their enemy. As Gene made Finny his enemy even though Finny never disliked Gene. But at the end, when Finny dies, part of that gift is given to Gene and that’s when he realizes that sometimes the people you make enemies of yours might not be against you at all.

  2. At the beginning of chapter 11 right after the snowball fight, there is a scene in which Finny and Gene are alone. In the scene, they have a very short conversation about Finny’s broken leg. Gene asks Finny about breaking his leg again, and Finny replays with “No, of course I won’t break it again. Isn’t the bone supposed to be stronger when it grows together over a place where it’s been broken once?” I feel like this question demonstrates how, despite the fact that it was certainly being destroyed, Finny’s innocence didn’t completely die until his final conversation with Gene. This question shows how his optimism and naiveness hasn’t quite died down yet. When he asks about the bone growing stronger after it’s been broken, he’s asking about if the old essences of him can be able to come back. He still has hope that he may be able to relive his childhood, the time when he was an athlete before he fell out of the tree. He hopes that it will grow over the part of his life he’s currently living, “A place where it’s been broken once.”

  3. On page 194 in the brown book, it says “When they began to feel that there was this overwhelmingly hostile thing in the world with them, then their simplicity and unity of their characters broke and they were not the same again.”
    When rereading this sentence after having finished the book, the word “broke” immediately stuck out to me because it is exactly what happens to Finny’s leg when he falls down the stairs. Throughout the whole book, Finny has clearly been the protector and symbol of innocence. He has refused, again and again, to see the truth when it might be harmful to that innocence. He refuses to accept the fact that Gene, with evil intent, pushed him off the tree. He refuses to accept the fact that there is a world war going on. He refuses to accept the fact that there is anything in this world except good.
    But then he meets a ruined Leper and he recognizes the realness of the war and then Brinker forces him to see the truth/facts and to accept reality, and he sees the ugliness in people and in the world and he feels hatred for them, and not long after these things happen, his bone breaks. Just like his character. The truth and the facts and the hatred the reality of growing up break his bone (and character) and then are able to go straight to– and kill– his innocent, joyful, loving heart.
    Finny never accepted “hostile things” and neither did Leper until the war forced him to. And it was only after the war that Leper sees the ugly in Gene. But Finny refuses to see the ugly, he refuses to see the war. Finny has no hatred and therefor has no war. Because war is made because of the hatred and the enemies that we create in order for us to feel the power of defeating them. In order for us to grow up. But Finny didn’t need to feel that power; he didn’t need to defeat enemies. First off, he didn’t have any enemies to defeat, and even if he did, he wouldn’t have wanted to defeat them because he liked games like Blitzball and snowball fights, where there was no defeating, no winning. Finny didn’t need to grow up, and so there were no enemies, and because there were no enemies, there was no war, and because there was no war, there was still innocence.
    But Brinker keeps on insisting that Finny know the truth– that Finny grows up. And he’s forcing reality down poor Finny’s throat and so Finny runs but it’s too late. Because Finny knows now. And when Finny finally recognizes the “hostile things in the world with [him]”, when he can no longer deny the ugly in the world and the ugly in Gene–, the hatred can get to his heart and kill it.

  4. As much as I would like to think I noticed this myself, I was helped by the fact that the previous owner of this book circled the words for me. On pages 161-170, the word “marble” can be found five times. I searched for what marble can be used as a symbol for in literature, and the most common answer was purity or immortality. While the architecture at Devon is often described, the only time marble is ever mentioned is when describing the floor or the stairs. I interpret this to be a metaphor for mankind, marble being the sturdy foundation of purity under all the crazy mess found above. While I noticed that it is ironic that Finny died on the thing that symbolizes immortality, I looked deeper and I think I found something interesting. On page 144, Gene says he wants to see Phineas and only Phineas because of his Greek-inspired and Olympian beliefs that victory would go to whoever was strongest in body and heart (irony is fun). Marble is often associated with Greek and Roman architecture, and because Finny died on the marble stairs, I’m going to go off on a limb (pun pun pun) and say that Knowles intended these values to be the cause of Phineas’ death. I believe that by having Finny die by the marrow in his bone traveling to his heart, Knowles was literally saying Finny lost the war between him and Gene because he was no longer the strongest in body and spirit. This is mainly due to Gene’s vampirism, but I digress. Ancient Greece was used many times in this text that I did not notice until I started to look for it. The Devon school was compared to Athens, which really caught my attention. I searched “Phineas in Greece” and found that Phineus (Φινεύς) was a character in Greek mythology that was blinded by Zeus as a punishment. Knowles probably gave Phineas his name because he wanted to compare the naïve blindness of Finny to the physical blindness of Phineus. After finding this and wondering whether it was a coincidence, I decided to search “Eugene (Gene’s full name of course) in Greece”. Apparently Eugene was derived from Greek, literally translating to “well-born” or “noble”, completely contradicting what we have seen of Gene in this novel.

  5. The reason I was looking for Greek allusions is because I read the Foster chapter on mythology and I noticed it tied in well with the end of the book 🙂

  6. In our seminar, we didn’t talk about the snowball fight in chapter 11. I thought it was interesting how the fight ended. “We ended the fight in the only way possible; all of us turned on Phineas. Slowly, with a steadily widening grin, he was driven down beneath a blizzard of snowballs.” I noticed that when they were doing the trial before Phineas fell down the stairs, they did kind of the same thing. Brinker didn’t know how to figure everything out, so he turned to Phineas and pressured him to remember (or not remember, just hide the details if Finny was protecting Gene) what happened the day he fell out of the tree. It was a tense moment, assumptions and confusion being thrown around, everyone targeting different people, just like in a snowball fight. Eventually, the pressure and the stress caught up to Finny and he stormed out, giving up, shouting that he doesn’t care and that Brinker can find his own facts, which ended up with him falling down the stairs. In a way, they all sort of turned against him, not really thinking about how all of this might feel to Finny, and he surrendered.
    I’d also like to bring up a quote that really stuck out to me later in chapter 11. Finny has lost all his enthusiasm about there not being a war, because he slowly is starting to realize that there is one. He says later that he only denied the war because he couldn’t enlist, but I think there is more to it then that. He was “looking down” and quiet. His grin “flashed and FADED,” as if it was an unsure, painted on smile. He “murmered”, doubtfully, lacking confidence, “Sure. There isn’t any war.” I don’t know why this stood out to me so much, but I feel like it really gives us an idea of what Finny was feeling in that chapter. A bit lost and starting to doubt all these concepts about war, and really showing his sadness that he can’t enlist.
    Another thing I really liked was how we put quotes together to show how Gene was Finny’s leg, and because Gene killed Finny, Gene also dies. A bone can’t live in a dead body, even if the bone was what killed the person. I also feel like the snap of the bone symbolizes the snap of personality in Finny, when he became Phineas.

  7. During the in-class discussion, I feel like the class as a whole didn’t touch on a very important aspect of the book. the back drop of the war. Phines is a part of Gene and when Phineas dies, Gene doesn’t cry because Phineas was part of him. Phineas was Gene’s youth, he was his childhood. The war is sort of the rite of passage. to his adulthood. When Gene tell Phineas that he wont be good in war its because Gene knows that throughout Phineas life, Phineas has been avoiding conflict. In the beginning of the book, we learn Phineas gets away with everything even against the teachers. Gene knows that the war, you can’t avoid. In order to be in the war, you have to face your personal enemy. Gene faced Phineas, his personal enemy, but Phineas never faced his. Both sides feed of each other, and only when you can tip the balance then you can trully face your enemy. I think that the book is showing the transfer from childhood and adulthood. The war (adulthood)is far off from Devon, and phineas (childhood) is right at the school, but sooner or later that childhood is going to leave, and be gone, while the adulthood comes full on, in this case, WW2.

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