Freudian Concepts Of Mind In A Separate Peace By John Knowles

Sigmund, the Austrian neurologist who is considered the father of psychoanalysis and founded the field, believed that the human mind could be divided into three parts: the id (unconscious), the ego (conscious) and the superego. The id is a subconscious mind which makes decisions based on impulses, without weighing up the future consequences. Superego is the opposite of id: it is known as “conscience” for its moral focus. The ego is the conscious part that balances out the superego and id. Gene Forrester depicts all of these Freudian mental concepts in John Knowles’ novel A Separate Peace: The id hurts Finny, when it jouncing a tree limb. He also portrays the superego guilt when his actions are immoral, and finally the ego when trying to avoid the consequences. This essay will analyze all three concepts.

Gene’s Id, who Gene views as a potential threat, makes impulsive decisions in the novel to “eliminate”. Gene and Finny appear to be friends in the novel. However, Gene believes that they are rivals. Gene initially believes that his feelings for Finny will fade over time. Gene becomes aware that the feelings of envy are not going away, but are instead growing until they become hatred. Gene’s id is triggered by the competition and for a brief moment, his superego and ego are overpowered. Finny interrupts Gene when he wants to improve his French. He says, “I don’t give a crap about the French”. Finny persuades Gene to leave the school the night before his trigonometry tests. Gene is unable to prepare for the test and fails. Gene believes Finny is jealous and deliberately doing this to ruin Gene’s chances of becoming valedictorian. Gene’s competitive nature is arousing and he wants to eliminate Finny as soon as possible. Gene is jealous of Finny and believes that Finny feels the same. Gene realizes that Finny has no hatred or jealousy for him while they are both in the trees. Gene feels a sense of guilt when he realizes that Finny is not jealous of him. He then jounces the limb of the tree to make Finny fall. Finny’s balance was gone. He swung around and looked at me with great interest for a moment, then fell sideways and broke through the branches below, hitting the bank with an unnatural, sickening thud. Gene is threatened because Finny has a bad attitude. His id becomes aggressive and tries to harm Finny. This will allow Gene to fulfill his need for being the best.

Gene’s superego is evident in A Separate Peace because he strives for academic excellence, is loyal to Finny, and tries to make amends with him after the incident with the tree. Gene’s superego can be perceived by the reader as his constant desire to be top of class in academics and to always follow school rules. This is until Finny gets him to change. Gene’s Superego will act differently in this case. Gene does not follow the rules of the school, but breaks them to maintain friendship with Finny. Gene is more submissive than Finny, so he will automatically follow Finny’s instructions for their friendship. Gene’s superego, for example, breaks school rules to please Finny, and to maintain their friendship. Gene visits Finny, who broke his leg after falling from a tree, in Boston. Gene confides in Finny after discussing their summers: “I thought about it..about you because- I was imagining you and your accident because – because I caused the accident”. Gene’s Superego makes Gene tell Finny what happened, even though Gene was afraid of Finny’s reactions. Finny, who believes Gene to be a friend, decides not to believe Gene. Gene could’ve easily escaped. But Gene’s superego convinced him to act rightly. Gene repeated, “I deliberately moved the limb in order for you to fall off.” Gene’s Superego helps him to forget his guilt, even though it’s hard. He confesses all to Finny.

Gene’s self-centeredness is exemplified by his attempts to avoid any consequences. Gene is jokingly accused by the other boys in Devon School. They make jokes that Gene deliberately caused Finny’s fall from the tree branch. Gene’s false confession is a result of Gene’s ego. He jokes about the incident and makes a fake confession. After I discovered that he had cheated in his Devon entrance exams, I blackmailed his family about it. I then made love to his younger sister in Mr. Ludsbury’s study. Gene’s false confession is the result of his ego. Gene uses the joke to escape any problems, minimizes the accusations and amuses himself and other people. Gene’s Ego is attempting to meet his wants and needs, but in an improved and more compromising way than what the id suggested. Gene’s superego may have had a more morally correct solution, but the ego is not.

Gene Forrester’s representation of Sigmund freud’s idea that the human mind can be divided into the id and ego is evident in John Knowles novel A Separated Peace. Gene’s id shows up when he jounces Finny after he is jealous of Finny. His superego comes out when Gene admits to his wrongdoings. Gene’s ego is revealed when Gene hides his mistakes with a joke. Gene’s character and mind are shaped by the Freudian concepts id and superego.


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    David Wong is a 29-year-old educator and blogger who focuses on helping students learn in creative and interesting ways. He has a background in teaching and has been blogging since 2006. David's work has been featured on a variety of websites, including Lifehack, Dumb Little Man, and The Huffington Post.