A Separate Peace was written by active author John Knowles from his real experiences and personal struggles. Knowles attended Phillips Exeter Academy, an exclusive New Hampshire prep school, for two summer sessions in 1943 and 1944. This book vaguely outlines his experiences at Exeter with himself as the main character but under the name of Gene Forrester. Knowles' novel tells the somber story of a young man's struggle to escape from himself and his world; to achieve a special and separate peace. .
The primary setting of A Separate Peace is at the Devon School. The exact location of this school is not known in terms of a state, but it is identified as being in the South, sitting between a freshwater and a saltwater stream. The bulk of the story takes place in the years of 1942 through 1944 at the same time as World War II, but the beginning and end of the book consist of Gene looking back on his years at the Devon School 15 years after he had attended it. .
A Separate Peace considers two conflicts: man against man and man against himself. Early in the story Gene believes that his problems lie within his best friend Phineas (Finny), but later he realizes that his conflict is internal. Misplaced jealousy, fear, love and hate fight for control of Gene's actions. When the dark side of him wins for a brief moment and he pushes Finny out of a tree it ends his man against man conflict and makes Gene realize that Finny's intention has never been to sabotage him. He had only wanted to have a close and meaningful relationship with his best friend, but their relationship was forever scarred by Gene's betrayal. Gene also learns that people destruct themselves all of the time for no reason, believing that others are enemies when they actually are not. This can be observed in the last lines of the book when Gene states, "All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way -if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy.