A Separate Peace: Social Sterotypes
Thesis: The five main characters in John Knowles' A Separate
Peace represent social stereotypes, according to some
In his book A Separate Peace, John Knowles represents jocks with
Phineas, a character who believes that sports are the key to life. Phineas is
more of a sportsman than a jock. Real jocks only care about winning, Phineas
makes sure it's not possible for anyone to win or lose.
Chet Douglas is an exaggerated prep, just like Phineas is an
exaggerated jock. He is obsessed with learning just for the sake of learning.
No real hardcore prep thinks that way! Chet Douglas lives in his own
educational world. He's so absorbed in this alternate reality in which Calculus
has a justified existence that he forgets what the school is trying to teach
him, and actually goes out and seeks more academia than what the school is
already shoving down his and everyone else's throat. The standard prep is only
concerned with being on the top of the Honor Roll, so that everybody's parents
can marvel at how smart (s)he is.
There is one character that fits into no stereotype. "Leper" Lepillier
is an individualist. Individualists are people who don't conform to social
norms just for the sake of being accepted by others. Real individualists are
not those people with blue and green hair you see on talk shows. Those people
conform to a subculture, something that was less common during World War II.
The real individualists of the world are quickly disappearing, as conformity
becomes more popular. I haven't met any real individualists, so I can't say
whether or not Knowles exaggerates Lepillier's lack of stereotype.
In modern society, there is pressure on individualists to conform to
the most prominent subculture in the local area (I think). Those who fail to
conform become outcasts, like the character Quackenbush. Outcasts are
ridiculed so that they see themselves as inferior to everyone. In the book,
Quackenbush tries desperately to find someone who he is not inferior to, and
starts a fight with Gene. While outcasts are created in the same way as
Quackenbush, he reacts much differently to being an outcast than most outcasts
do. To the standard outcast, everyone is the target, eventually, not just a few
Some people are self-obsessed. Gene would be a good example if he was
real. Gene is overly obsessed with his own emotions, this is why we have to put
up with all his garbage throughout the book. He is the type who would step over
his own mother (or shake his best friend off of a tree) to get what he wants.
Since the time when this book takes place, new groups of people called
subcultures have formed. Each subculture has its own social norms. They are
like a society within a society, and segregate the people even more than these
five basic types of people did back in Knowles' time.