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A Separate Peace
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A Separate Peace | Study Guide
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Nicholas Nickleby. Charles Dickens. That night, Brinker and a few of his friends bring the roommates to one of the schoolrooms. They plan to investigate Finny's accident. Leper is called on to testify what he saw. They conclude that Gene caused the accident.
Study Guides on Works by John Knowles
Upset, Finny runs from the room. He trips down a set of marble stairs and rebreaks his leg. When Gene visits the infirmary, Finny asks Gene if it was a momentary impulse that made him jostle the limb or some deeper resentment. Gene tells him it was a moment of insanity, not a planned attack. The two reconcile. The doctor tells Gene that he can come back later after Finny's bone has been set.
When Gene returns, Finny is dead. The doctor thinks that some bone marrow must have traveled to Finny's heart and stopped it. Gene identifies so closely with his friend that he feels as if he died as well. The school year comes to an end, and Gene decides to enlist in the Navy. The narrative switches to Gene's older self, reflecting on how all his anger and hatred disappeared when Finny died.
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His war was fought in Devon and was over before he enlisted. He believes that a part of Finny will live on in him and that Finny was the essence of peace, someone who was immune to the hatred in a human heart. Gene prays because it might turn out that God is real. He prays at night before bed and often says long prayers so Finny will believe he is pious.
When Finny is not at school, because of his broken leg, Gene stops praying. He starts again when Finny returns. One of Finny's football trophies is for Christian sportsmanship. The boys attend chapel daily but the sermons aren't mentioned, except for one title: "God in Foxholes. After Gene realizes that Finny never felt a sense of rivalry toward him and he regrets his hateful feelings toward Finny, Gene attends a school event where they sing a hymn with the lyrics: "Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.
In the beginning of the book, a line equates the school's high tree branches to church towers, saying both are remote and useless, and also says that love does not endure. After seeing Finny swimming in the river, Gene thinks Finny could be a river god because he seems so comfortable and natural in the water.
Though Finny is never established as the leader, the boys at Devon look up to him. When he makes up the game blitzball, all the other boys simply accept the rules that he establishes as he makes them. Finny is able to persuade his friends to follow his ideas, such as when he decides they need to have a winter carnival or when he establishes a secret society. Variations of the words h, a--, and d--n are used throughout the novel.
S, crap, b--tard and b--ch are also used. The name of God is taken in vain several times and the name of Christ is used as an exclamation. Though not spelled out, the f-word is mentioned to once. When Gene talks about the pictures of the southern plantation he placed on the wall of his room, he mentions the cabins and uses the n-word. Because he is jealous of Finny, Gene shakes a tree limb that Finny is standing on, causing the boy to fall and shatter a leg.
When Gene confesses, Finny is upset and doesn't want to believe his friend is capable of such an act. He threatens to hit or kill Gene if he doesn't stop talking about it. Gene argues with a fellow student and punches him. Leper describes his breakdown for Gene. He imagined one of his fellow recruits coughing up his stomach and thought he saw people holding amputated limbs.
Finny wears a pink shirt. Gene thinks it makes him look like a "fairy" gay. When talking about the draft age, Finny says it's all a question of birthdays unless you consider the moment of conception.
He doesn't want to do that because he doesn't want to think about his parents' sex life. When initially questioned about his involvement in Finny's accident, Gene tries to joke it off by telling the boys the things he's done to hurt Finny. The list of fictitious wrongs includes making love to Finny's sister. Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at ThrivingFamily. Smoking: The boys smoke in a place called the Butt Room. The room is in the basement and is very drab, the school's attempt to discourage the boys from smoking. Alcohol: Finny and Gene drink beer when they go to the beach.
At the winter carnival, Brinker is in charge of refreshments and brings hard cider. Lying: Gene lies to his classmates when they first question him about his involvement in Finny's accident. This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children.
Because their grace has always given them a special form of protection, they assume that nothing bad can happen to them and they simply don't understand or care what might happen to others less gifted. This utter carelessness even redounds to their favor. Suppose that earlier in the story, when Gene lost his balance, that Finny had not been able to grab him and prevent his fall, would anyone have blamed Finny? Would Finny have genuinely blamed himself?
Oh sure, he would have accepted blame and folks would have been proud of how nobly he behaved, but would he have truly accepted the fact that he had caused the fall and the injury or would he, and others, have actually believed that the fault lay in Gene, that he was simply unequal to the task and had even shown himself to be inferior to Finny? If Finny hadn't come up right behind me I could have fallen on the bank and broken my back!
Finny had practically saved my life. Yes, he had practically saved my life. He had also practically lost it for me. But of course Gene is at heart a follower, one of the enablers so overawed by Phineas that he can not see through to the logical implications of this intuition.
Nor does he understand the manner in which Phineas warps situations to his own benefit. But nobody can be playing it as it was played by Phineas. I saw that right away. Why not? So when he controls situations and plays to his own strengths, he excels. But what of situations he can't control? Is he an indifferent student? And this is what finally prods Gene to his precipitous action; when he realizes that Finny discounts the thing that Gene excels at and is therefore not jealous of his academic achievement in the way that Gene envies Finny's physical prowess, it is too much for him to stand and he shakes Finny off of the branch.
When Phineas returns to school, the boys enter a realm of unreality where his specialness remains unthreatened. They pretend that the injury is temporary and he will be back in action soon. Finny even refuses to acknowledge the reality of WWII; obviously if he can't participate in this ultimate physical test, it's very existence must be denied. It is at this exact point in the story that Knowles uses the phrase "separate peace", during the Winter Carnival which Finny organizes. And in fact this is a separate moment, the last moment when Finny is a significant person in the lives of these boys.
As the carnival is winding down, Gene receives the telegram from Leper and suddenly the War is undeniable. Since Phineas can not go to War, he is destined to become a minor figure instead of the center of attention that has been previously.