But there may be a darker current underpinning the boys’ closeness, working alongside Finny’s innocent love for his best friend. We have already seen evidence of Gene’s eagerness to lose himself in Finny, to give up his identity and live as a part of his friend. But now, in Finny’s enthusiasm to train Gene for the 1944 Olympics, we observe how Finny, too, contributes to this process, welcoming this sacrifice on Gene’s part. Denied the ability to live life to the fullest by his injury, Finny sets out to live through Gene by attempting to transform him into the athlete that he himself once was. When Gene achieves his breakthrough on the track and becomes a better runner, Finny remarks that Gene has learned something new about himself through exercise. While this statement may be true, it also rings of cruel irony: perhaps all that Gene has learned about himself is how easily he can transform himself into a mirror of Finny.
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Knowles makes it apparent throughout A Separate Peace that while the loss of innocence may often seem to be a sad or tragic event, it is necessary to pave the way for maturation and a transition into adulthood. Had Finny never accepted the truth of the tragedy that occurred to him, he would have never matured beyond his carefree summer days. And had Leper kept living in his own world of vivid imaginations, he would have never developed into the sanguine individual he becomes at the end of the novel. While the loss of innocence is partly a lugubrious experience, John Knowles portrays it as a necessity - a part of maturation and growth that leads to adulthood and self-fulfillment.