The adult world during World War II was one of sadness, bravery and hatred while the world of a young New England schoolboy was filled with happiness, routine and protection. In A Separate Peace, the Devon School acts as a microcosm for a child's life during the war, fully sheltered from the audacity of a world at war. Thoughts of the impending war linger in the minds of the two central characters, Gene and Phineas, as their graduation approaches. John Knowles" novel, A Separate Peace, addresses the conflict that these characters will face in their transition from sheltered high school life to the harsh and unshielded world outside its gates.
Brinker Hadley, a schoolmate of Gene and Phineas, is intimidated by the impending transition from Devon to adulthood. Brinker is well liked by almost everyone. He looks athletic, but unlike the other students, he has no time to play sports, "being too busy with politics, arrangements, and offices" (79). Brinker is a conventional student leader, and like one, he often tries to control other characters. He cannot stand alone on his own two feet; he must have others who support him and become his followers. Brinker is pro-war in his words and advice to the others, but remains a frightened young man who does not want to "do a heck of a lot more than just what he has to" (192). Brinker, feeling the burden from his overbearing father, a World War I veteran, often pushes Gene toward enlistment with him. Brinker's father is a very proud man, proud of his army record and proud of his son. Pressure is the constant strain on Brinker's shoulders because his father wants him to be just like him. Mr. Hadley wants "a military record you can be proud of," (192) for his son. Brinker never wants to fight in the war. Brinker, throughout the novel, acts as a "human thermometer" to gauge Gene's growth toward adulthood. Brinker's childish, manipulative powers have the greatest effect on Gene when Brinker is trying to steal Gene's loyalty from Phineas.