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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Book Summary
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Everyone is shocked to hear the news of Finny's accident. No one, however, is allowed to go near the infirmary to see him. As a result, various rumors about Finny's condition are spread. Eventually, the students learn that one of his legs was "shattered" in the accident. Gene feels terrible and confused; the fact that all the students come and talk to him about the accident adds to his misery.

One evening as he dresses for dinner, Gene decides to wear Finny's pink shirt. As he looks at himself in the mirror dressed in his roommate's clothes, he feels he is actually looking at Finny, completing identifying with him. He thinks he will never have to "stumble through confusion" again. Amazingly, Gene begins to accept what he has done to Finny. Then comes the shocking news that Finny will never be able to participate in sports again although he will be able to walk.

Dr. Stanpole comes to Gene to seek his help. Since he is supposedly Finny's best friend, the doctor wants him to work with him to accept the fact that he will not be able to participate in athletics again. The doctor also tells Gene that Finny has been asking for him. When he goes to see Finny, Gene is shocked to see his friend looking so weak. No longer tan and unable to exercise, Finny looks smaller. Despite his confinement, Finny has not lost his sense of humor. He tells Gene, "You look worse than I do."

Gene asks Finny what really happened in the tree although he does not want to hear the answer. Finny replies that he lost his balance and had tried to catch on to Gene. Gene, again misinterpreting Finny's words, asks him whether he had wanted to pull him down with him. Finny says that he was just trying to prevent himself from falling. Finny also reveals that Gene's face had an awfully funny expression as he fell. He also tells Gene that he has had a funny feeling about the accident, which he has dismissed from his mind; he even apologizes for having had the feeling. Gene feels guilty when he realizes that Finny is apologizing for suspecting the truth. He decides he must confess his guilt; however, before he can talk to Finny, the doctor comes in and sends him away.

In order to recuperate, Finny is sent home to Boston in an ambulance. Gene soon goes home for a month for summer vacation. On his way back to Devon, he stops at Finny's house. Deciding to tell Finny the truth, he confesses that he had deliberately bounced the limb to make Finny fall. Finny refuses to believe the truth, thinking Gene incapable of such a cruel act; he even threatens to hit Gene when he repeats the story. Gene realizes that by pressing the matter he will only upset Finny; therefore, he decides to leave. Bidding Finny farewell, he is ready to depart for Devon. Finny reminds him not to live merely by the rules. Gene agrees, even though he knows it is a lie; without Finny by his side, he will be his old regulated, conservative self.


Everyone at Devon is upset about Finny's accident. The teachers and staff cannot believe that such an unfortunate thing has happened, especially to Finny; they had always believed him to be "one of the few young men who could be free and happy in the summer of 1942." Gene is in particular turmoil. Although he feels guilty about what he has done, he is even more worried about Finny accusing him of the accident.

In an effort to replace Finny or become one with him, Gene dresses in Finny's clothes, including the pink shirt. When he looks into the mirror, he sees Finny instead of himself; there is a humorous expression on his face, like one that Finny would wear. It becomes obvious that Gene has caused the accident so that he could take Finny's place, hoping to become carefree and popular like his friend.

When it is announced that Finny will be a cripple and not able to play sports, everyone is shocked. The mood quickly turns gloomy as teachers and students talk about futility and disillusionment. The dark atmosphere of the raging war in Europe has suddenly invaded the peaceful Devon because of the accident. It is not just on the battlefield that people are maimed.

When the doctor visits with Gene, he is made to feel even more guilty. Dr. Stanpole calls him Finny's best friend and asks him to help Finny accept the fact that he can never again participate in athletics. He also tells Gene that Finny has been asking for him, which makes Gene nervous. Gene obviously feels unworthy of being called his best friend or trying to help him and fears that Finny is going to tell everyone the truth about the accident. With a great sense of guilt and trepidation, he goes to see Finny in the infirmary. He is shocked at the sight, for Finny has lost his tan, appears weak, and seems small.

During the visit, Gene asks Finny to explain what happened in the accident; he specifically asks, "Do you remember what made you fall?" Gene is obviously trying to find out if Finny knows or suspects the truth. Finny admits to Gene that he has had some funny thoughts about the accident, but has dismissed them as crazy. Finny has suspected the truth and dismissed it as impossible; his faith in Gene is unshakable, in sharp contrast to Gene's feelings toward Finny.

In explaining the accident, Finny says that he lost his balance. He admits that as he was falling, he reached for Gene and noticed a funny expression on his friend's face. The insecure Gene asks Finny if he was trying to pull him down with him. Finny, surprised at the questions, assure Gene that he only grabbed for him to try and prevent himself from falling. Gene then feels more ashamed than ever; he has no reason to doubt or question Finny. He decides he must confess the truth, for he knows that is what Finny would do in his shoes. Before he can explain, the doctor comes in and tells Gene he must leave.

The chapter marks the turning point in the life of both Finny and Gene. Finny learns that he is to be a cripple for the rest of his days and will never be able to play his beloved sports again. Gene acknowledges the truth of the accident to himself and develops a great sense of guilt; he also becomes extremely fearful that someone will realize the truth of what has happened. This fear over the circumstances of the accident will stay with him through his adulthood.

Gene's decision to tell Finny the truth reveals that he is attempting to do what is right, a step towards maturity. Since he is terribly guilt-ridden, he also hopes that in confessing, he will be forgiven. Unfortunately, the doctor interrupts Gene's plans by coming into the room and asking him to leave. When Gene leaves the hospital, he is more confused than ever, for his good intentions have been thwarted.

Gene comes to the realization that he really does not have any values of his own. He has always simply tried to imitate Finny. Without his friend, everything appears unreal to him. Because of his great guilt, he cannot concentrate on anything other than the accident. He feels like a wild man, who has stumbled in from the jungle to destroy things. This repressed animal in him raised its head and made him shake the limb, causing Finny's fall. Gene judges himself unfit to live in a civilized society.

Finny is sent back home to Boston in an ambulance. Gene soon leaves for summer vacation. Even during the break, he cannot enjoy himself, for thoughts of Finny haunt him. On his way back to Devon, he stops to pay his friend a visit and decides to confess. When Gene tells Finny the truth of what has happened, he refuses to accept that Gene has caused him to fall. When Gene repeats the story, Finny threatens to hit him if he does not shut up. The refusal to accuse him makes Gene feel even more guilty. Not wanting to upset his friend further, Gene departs, but he is in total chaos.

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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Plot Synopsis


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