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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Book Summary
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Chapter 3


This chapter begins with Gene reflecting on the fact that Finny has probably saved his life by preventing him from falling from the tree. Gene, however, is determined not to feel much gratitude towards Finny; he justifies his emotions through rationalizing that he would not even have been in the tree if it were not for his friend. He knows he would never have climbed the tree by himself.

Finny's successes continue. He has told his classmates about the Super Suicide Society, and they have eagerly joined, making the club popular and important. The members begin to meet every night in order to plan their next course of events and to initiate new members. Gene and Finny begin every session by jumping from the tree into the water, a feat that Gene continues to face with fear; he does it only to please Finny.

During the chapter, Finny reveals his feeling about sports. He refuses to accept that when one side is the winner, the other side has to be the loser; he believes that everyone must win when playing sports. He is also opposed to any kind of athletics that does not involve a round ball. He is very much against badminton, which is one of the summer sports sanctioned by the authorities at Devon. To counter badminton, Finny creates his own game, called blitzball, where one person carries the ball, and everyone else in the game is against him. Like everything that Finny influences, blitzball is a huge success. Finny enjoys playing it, for it gives him a chance to truly display his athletic abilities and untiring flow of energy.

One day when Gene and Finny are in the gym, they notice that nobody has broken the school swimming record for a long time. Finny goes to the pool and immediately breaks the record without ever having practiced. Gene tells him he needs to do it again when an official timekeeper is present. Finny, however, does not give the swimming feat much importance and refuses to do it again. Gene is astonished that he does not want to show off his prowess.

Finny suggests that he and Gene go to the beach, a forbidden activity at Devon; Gene reluctantly agrees. Since it is a three-hour bicycle ride, Finny entertains Gene by singing and telling stories along the way. Upon arriving, they swim, walk around, and eat; they even lie about their ages and drink a beer. Before going to sleep on the beach, Finny reveals his gratitude to Gene for being his best friend. Gene is taken aback by the compliment because he thinks that he does not deserve Finny's friendship. He is also surprised that Finny will express his feelings, for "expressing a sincere emotion nakedly was the next thing to suicide." Gene would like to tell Finny that he cares for him as well, but the words will not come.


The psychological implications of the relationship between Gene and Finny continue to build in this chapter. It is obvious that Finny genuinely likes Gene. At each Suicide Society gathering, Finny allows his friend to jump in the river with him to start the meeting. He also invites Gene to go to the beach with him. Since it is a forbidden three-hour bike ride away from Devon, it is a daring feat for Gene to agree to. At the beach, Finny tells Gene he is grateful for his friendship. The confession of gratitude makes Gene feel very guilty, because he does not feel worthy of Gene's friendship. Inside he knows he is jealous of his friend, wanting him to get in trouble and kicked off of his pedestal; he has also refused to feel grateful to Finny.

Gene is very aware that Finny is a great influence on him. He has become less studious and more adventuresome because of Finny. He now finds himself doing things that his old conservative self would never have contemplated doing, like jumping out of the tree each night to start the meetings of the Suicide Society or riding to the beach. He also knows that he should feel grateful to Finny for saving him from falling out of the tree. Gene, however, refuses to feel beholden to Finny and justifies that he would not even have been in the tree except for the cajoling of his friend.

Finny's creativity and rebellion against tradition is further developed in this chapter. Gene says that his roommate is ruled by "inspiration and anarchy." In spite of the fact that he loves sports, he refuses to join in badminton because it is not played with a round ball, and it is supported by the authorities at Devon. To rebel against badminton, he invents blitzball, where one person plays against the whole team. Finny considers it to be a very challenging sport, for it requires more strength than what is usually demanded of the human body. Like everything else that Finny is involved with, blitzball becomes very successful. When Finny realizes that the school swimming record has not been broken in a long time, he jumps into the pool and beats the time. Gene tells him he should let an official timekeeper clock him, but Finny has no real interest in breaking official records; he is simply satisfied to know that he has succeeded in breaking the record. Gene is amazed at his nonchalant attitude; he also finds himself resenting each of Finny's successes.

The differences between the natures of Gene and Finny are further highlighted in this chapter. Finny's suggestion to bicycle to the beach again reflects his natural desire to take risks and defy authority. Although Gene goes along with the plan, he is nervous about it and only gives in to the suggestion to please Finny and retain his respect. On reaching the beach after a three-hour journey, a nervous and tired

Gene only stays in the water for a short time, while the tireless Finny swims for an hour. Gene feels small, insignificant and powerless in the shadow of Finny's strength, bravery, and ability. His resentment grows.

When Finny confesses that Gene is his best friend and he feels grateful to him, Gene is amazed, for it seems out of character for the strong-willed Finny to so openly reveal his emotions. Gene is touched by the open and courageous confession. Though he wants to say the same thing to Finny, he cannot get the words out. His sense of guilt about his true feelings for Finny prevents him from saying anything. As a result, the internal conflict rises in Gene.


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