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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Book Summary
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Finny is very amused to see how Gene is dressed and tells him that he does not have to advertise the fact that he is the worst dressed man on campus. Gene explains that he is in his work clothes, for he has been clearing snow from the railroad. He also explains that the students have had to clean the dorm, for there are no maids available to do the work. As they talk, Gene realizes that he and Finny have grown apart in the past few months. While Gene has become more serious about the war and about his studies, Finny takes things lighter than ever.

In the morning, Brinker comes to Gene's room to try and encourage him to enlist in the army. When he enters, he is surprised to see Finny and remarks that Gene's little plot did not work after all. When Finny asks Gene what Brinker meant, Gene says that Brinker is talking about enlisting in the army, which shocks Finny. Gene tells Brinker that he has no interest in enlisting. In truth, Gene feels he needs to stay in school and help Finny. Although he is the least trustworthy of Finny's friends, considering what he has done to him, Finny trusts him completely and needs him to be there for him.

Finny suggests to Gene that they skip class, for they can always use the excuse that Finny has fainted and Gene had to help him. Gene, however, is against the idea of skipping school on the very first day of Finny's return; but Finny succeeds in changing his friend's mind. Finny insists that they go to the gym. It is quite a long walk there, and Finny, struggling with his crutches on the ice, becomes very weak and pale.

Finny tells Gene that since he can no longer be an athlete, Gene will have to become a "Big Star" in athletics. Gene remarks that sports will not be given much importance at Devon this year because of the war. Finny again states that he does not believe that there is a real war; he complains that it has simply been masterminded by some fat old men in Washington, who want to protect their jobs. Gene disagrees with him about the war; it is one of the first times in the book when he has dared to contradict Finny. When Gene asks him how he knows about such things as war and hoaxes, Finny says, "Because I've suffered." The statement heightens Gene's guilt again. To relieve some tension, he goes over to the exercise bar and chins himself thirty times. It is an action intended to please Finny.

Finny tells Gene that before the accident he had hoped to be in the next Olympics, scheduled for 1944. Now his plan is to coach Gene and get him ready for the Olympics. Since Gene does not have the heart to disagree with the crippled Finny, he begins to divide his time between helping Finny in his studies and practicing sports.


When Finny returns to school, Gene is surprised, for he had not expected him so soon. In fact, he had been trying to forget about Finny and what had happened to him. Now he will be reminded of it everyday; additionally, he feels he must accept the responsibility of being a help and support to Finny. As he accepts that he will be drawn back into Finny's world, thoughts of the war and enlistment drift away; in their place, Gene feels that "peace had come back to Devon."

Gene is again reminded of the basic differences between Finny and himself. When Finny complains about there not being any maids at school, Gene disapproves of his "grumbling about a lost luxury" when there is a war going on. When Finny suggests that they skip classes, Gene does not want to do it; Finny, however, changes Gene's mind. When Gene talks about the seriousness of the war, Finny dismisses it as a masterminded plot by fat old men in Washington. Finny, of course, has to make light of the war, for he knows that he can now never participate in it. In the same manner, he laughs at Gene's work clothes, for he knows that he will never need to wear them himself.

It hurts Gene gravely to see Finny's struggling. When he walks to the gym on his crutches, he looks weak and grows pale. In is a stark contrast to the boy who was the best athlete in school several months earlier. The difference simply increases Gene's guilt. Then when Finny tells how he was planning on being in the Olympics in 1944, Gene feels even more guilty. When Finny tells him he will help him train for the Olympics instead, Gene cannot refuse him; therefore, he splits his time between studies and athletics. He coaches Finny in his schoolwork; Finny coaches him in sports. It is the first time in the book that there is an almost equal give-and- take between the two boys. No longer is Gene fully controlled by Finny, nor does he view him as a super hero in his present condition. Ironically, Finny's frailty has given Gene strength and independence.

The image of water is again given importance in this chapter. Gene talks about the war sweeping over the shore like a wave. Gene also says that Finny's leg cast is like a sea anchor, dragging him down. When Gene talks about enlisting in the army, Finny suddenly feels the need to go and shower. It is like he wants to wash away his infirmities.

It is important to notice how Knowles uses the seasons symbolically. During the time that Finny and Gene were carefree, it was summertime with its bright sunshine and warmth. Now that Finny is saddled with crutches and Gene is saddled with guilt, it is appropriately wintertime with its dreariness, ice, and cold.

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


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