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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Book Summary
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When Gene returns to Devon, he finds Finny in the middle of a snowball fight. The players greet Gene, but no one asks him anything about Leper. Suddenly a snowball hits him on the back of his head. He notices that it was thrown by Finny, who asks him to join his group. When the snowball throwing finally ends, Finny comments that it was a splendid fight. Gene warns Finny to be careful with his leg. He says if he gets involved in fights, he might break his leg again. Finny, however, assures him that his leg is getting much stronger. For the first time, Gene realizes that he has no conflicts with Finny.

Brinker finally questions Gene about Leper. After evading the question for some time, Gene replies that Leper is out of his mind. At a later date, Brinker accuses Gene of not enlisting in the army because he pities Finny and says it is time for Finny to accept that he is a cripple. He then states that he is sure that Gene will be very happy if everything about Finny's accident is forgotten. Gene does not understand the implications of this statement.

As Gene helps Finny with his Latin, he complains about studying a war that occurred two thousand years ago. He again reiterates that he does not believe in any war, but he tells Gene that he believes in him. Finny admits that he did not initially believe anything that Gene had said about Leper and the war. This morning, however, he saw Leper hiding in the shrubbery near the chapel and acting strangely. Finny says that if the war can affect Leper in this way, it must be real.

One night, Brinker and three cohorts take Gene and Finny to the First Building, which is deserted. They enter the assembly room, and Gene notices ten students of the senior class in their black graduation robes. The atmosphere is very serious and somber. Brinker opens the gathering by saying a prayer; he then asks Finny to narrate the story of his fall from the tree. Finny replies that he fell from the tree because he lost his balance. Finny is then asked if anyone else was in the tree with him. Finny replies that he cannot remember. Somebody speaks up to say that Gene was also present at the tree. When Finny asks Gene whether he was standing on the ground near the tree, Gene replies in the affirmative.

Since neither Gene nor Finny is able to recall the exact details of the accident, somebody suggests that they call Leper, who is always good with details. Two boys go out and bring Leper inside. When Brinker questions Leper, he tells them that he can remember seeing two black figures, but he is not sure who they were. One figure was out on the limb, and the other figure was near the trunk of the tree. He then tells them that the figure at the trunk moved, and then the one out on the limb moved and fell. He never identifies either figure by name, which confuses everybody. Leper, however, says that he will not give out any more information.

Finny suddenly gets up and starts to leave. Gene notices that there are tears in his eyes. When Gene goes up to him, Finny says, "I just don't care. Never mind." Brinker tries to stop him from leaving, but he does not listen to him. Finny leaves the room and goes towards the marble stairs. Suddenly, to everyone's shock, they hear the sound of his body falling down the steps.


When Gene returns from Leper's house, he finds Finny in the midst of a snowball fight, which Gene quickly joins. The play fighting of the students is set against a lovely backdrop; the ground is whitened with the snow, and the grove of trees is adorned with white as well. In spite of the action, the mood is also quiet and meditative. It is another moment when the war is far removed, and "a separate peace" is found.

Brinker is filled with accusations in this chapter. First, he accuses Gene of not enlisting because he feels sorry for Finny, who can never be a soldier. He then accuses Finny of being filled with self- pity about his handicap. He finally accuses Gene of trying to forget about the accident, for he has begun to suspect some kind of foul play in Finnys' fall and Gene's involvement in it. It is obvious that Brinker has become jealous of the relationship that Gene and Finny have developed and is out to destroy it.

The relationship that exists between Gene and Finny is explained with the help of an analogy. Knowles says of the two of them, it is like "Athens and Sparta were trying to establish not just a truce but an alliance." Finny admits to Gene that he has absolute faith in him. He tells him, "I don't believe in books and I don't believe teachers, but I do believe it's important . . . for me to believe you." The statement is filled with irony, for Finny's trust in Gene, the one thing he now believes in, is soon to be broken; the truth about the accident that he has suspected, but denied, will be brought into the open. In the process, Finny will be destroyed.

The chapter ends with the student trial, which Brinker organizes to get to the truth of Finny's accident. After saying a prayer, Brinker asks Finny to narrate the incidents that led to his accident. Finny simply says that he lost his balance and fell from the tree. When Brinker cross-examines him, he suggests that maybe Finny did not fall from the tree on his own. When Gene is questioned, he says that he was merely standing beneath the tree watching Finny. Leper is called in to testify. He states that he saw two figures in the tree, one on a limb and the other near the trunk of the tree; when the lower figure moved, the other figure fell. Finny is forced to face the fact that Gene had caused him to fall from the tree by jouncing the limb purposely. The realization that his best friend has caused him to become a cripple brings tears to his eyes. He rushes from the room and falls down the stairs.

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