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The Playof the Double inA SeparatePeace Gordon E. Slethaug ByJohan Huizinga's account in Homo Ludens, play is present in a broad range ofcultural activities, including religious observance, poetry, philosophy andorganized combat: "The spirit of playful competition is, as a socjal impulse, older than culture itself and pervades all life like a veritable ferment. Ritual grew up in sacred play; poetry was born in play and nourished on play; music and dancing were pure play. Wisdom and philosophy found expression inwordsand forms derived from religious contests. The rules of warfare, the conventions of noble living were built up on play-patterns:' 1 Later critics such asRoger Caillois and Jacques Ehrmann, however, find this definition too narrow, for one thing because Huizinga retains only one characteristic of play,agon, its competitive aspect, whereas another important consideration ispaidia, spontaneous play. 2 These are two important kinds of play, each witha beginning and end, a magic circle of activity, players, the goal of winning, and certain rules, the violation of which is without question foul play. Through the device of the double, John Knowles in A Separate Peace comparestwo fundamentally different conceptions of the game of life, Gene's, which is a great, hostile and crushingly serious agon for domination, andPhineas' which is flippantly playful, truly paidiac. Althoughthis handling of play is unique to A Separate Peace, the nature of thedouble itself follows customary usage. As Milton F.Foster points out, the book shares a common basis with such works as The Secret Sharer and Heart CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume 15, Number 3, Fall 1984, 259-270 260 Gordon E.Slethaug of Darkness where the narrator is the main character but where the other character, his alter ego, occupies most of his thoughts. 3 This viewofthe second self as a projection of the protagonist's unconscious is fullyelaborated both by Otto Rank and Ralph Tymms who see this phenomenon inFreudian terms asNarcissism. 4 In these works, there is a significant sense in whichone character parallels or contrasts with another in a deliberate and obviousway, so that the two are seen to be complementary or warring aspects ofacentral self or identity. In the romances of Conrad these characters may resemble each other, oftentimes exactly although sometimes in fierce opposition,but in more realistic works such as The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsbyand A Separate Peace, these characters (Jake Barnes and Robert Cohn, Gatsbv and Nick, Gene and Finny) will not wholly resemble each other physicall~ but will still have enough affinity that there is no mistaking their relationship nor the resultant implied character-ideal projected by the conflict. In this respect, A Separate Peace and these predecessors perfectly illustrate Rank's and Carl Keppler's thesis that the significant literature of the double results from a notion of twinship, either the twin as evil persecutor or beneficent savior.5 But this book carries the issue even further: Gene is the persecuting double, bent upon his own selfish will to power and desired annihilationof Finny, while Finny is the beneficent double, through his sacrificial death bringing about hope and spiritual growth for Gene. Knowles's purpose in creating this double is to explore two radically different ways of relating with people and coping with an environment. These ways,agon and paidia, contrast the contestable, competitive attitude and warlike spirit in which the playful is largely absent with a lighthearted, carefree and joyful spirit of play in which the competitive, battling elementis sharply reduced. Gene's is the spirit of agon, serious rivalry tantamount to war where the spirit of friendliness and play is buried, and Phineas' isthe attitude of paidia, a generally more ludic vision, where human relations are characterized less by competition and more by the spirit of true joy and unfettered play. The book's story line is deceptively simple. The narrator, Gene Forrester, and his friend, Phineas (Finny), are both students at Devon, an eastern American private school. The narrator is the more conscientious studentof the two, but Phineas is the more gifted athletically and socially. Because Phineas is so well liked and because he seems often to draw Gene awayfrom his studies, the narrator becomes more and more anxious...


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pp. 259-270
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