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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Book Summary
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Phineas (Finny)

Finny is Gene's close friend and roommate, who is full of life and mischief. Always eager to try something new and bend the rules, he is the most daring boy at Devon. If he gets caught, he uses his charming personality, wit, and intelligence to escape punishment. Although he is not a good student, he is well liked by both teachers and students and considered a leader. When he organizes the game of blitzball and the Super Suicide Society, he easily convinces the other students to participate. Finny is also considered the best athlete in the school. In fact, he plans to train for the 1944 Olympics.

Gene begins to idolize Finny, largely because he is so totally opposite from him. Gene admires his daring ways and athletic abilities, since he possesses neither. He envies Finny's "sunburned health" and his "scatterbrained eloquence." He is also amazed that things come so easily for Finny and that he can talk himself into or out of any situation. Before long Gene realizes that he is jealous of this easy-going roommate. He repeatedly hopes that Finny will be caught and punished for one of his daring feats or for bending the rules.

Finny is not afraid to revolt against authority. He dares to wear the Devon tie as a belt and a pink shirt as his uniform. He also is not afraid to skip class to have some fun or to ride three miles to the beach on his bicycle. He justifies not studying because he is involved in athletics and spends most of his extra time working out in the gym or on the playing fields. He refuses to participate in badminton, the Devon approved summer sport, and invents blitzball in its place. At the same time, Finny does not need the approval of his superiors to feel good about himself. He thinks of himself as successful even though his grades are not good. When he breaks the school swimming record without practicing for it, he has no need to make it official; knowing that he is accomplished the feat is enough for him.

Finny truly likes his roommate Gene and considers him his best friend whom he can fully trust. Whenever Finny comes up with a plan, he always includes Gene. When he wants to jump from the tree into the river for the first, he wants Gene to come with him and share the glory. When he bikes to the beach for a bit of fun, he wants Gene to come along. When Gene almost falls out of the tree one time, Finny risks his own safety to reach out and grab his friend, preventing him from injuring himself. Finny naturally expects that his friend has the same feelings and trust.

When Finny falls out of the tree, he reaches for Gene to catch his balance, but Gene does not extend a helping hand; Finny also notices that Gene has a strange look on his face. As a result, Finny has had some funny thoughts about the accident, but he will not allow them to surface because of his faith in Gene. When Gene tries to tell him the truth about the accident, Finny will not listen. He wants to believe only the best about his roommate.

Finny grows bitter about becoming a cripple. He resents that he will never again be able to participate in sports, his favorite activity in life. As a result, he insists that Gene become a good athlete in his place; he coaches him in sports daily, trying to prepare Gene for the 1944 Olympics. In addition, Finny is resentful that he cannot participate in the war raging in Europe; he has even written to the Army, Navy, and Marines trying to convince them to give him some type of job in the war effort, but they have all turned him down. The internal tension obviously builds in Finny to the breaking point.

During the trial, Finny's tension finally comes bursting out. When he is questioned about the accident, he lies and says that he lost his balance and fell; he also says that Gene was not in the tree with him, for this is truly what he wants to believe. When he is finally forced to accept that Gene was responsible for his fall, Finny is crushed. With tears flowing down his face, he rushes out of the room where the trial is being held. He feels like the life has been knocked out of him. He is so upset that he cannot navigate the stairs; instead, he tumbles down them and breaks his crippled leg again.

Finny is so devastated by the truth that he loses his will to live. When Gene visits him in the hospital, Finny is pale and weak. He also openly expresses his bitterness, asking his roommate if he has come to break another part of his body. He even tries to hit Gene, but his handicap prevents him from successfully completing the punch; this leaves Finny more frustrated than ever. The next day Finny tells Gene about the depth of his misery. He feels totally useless; he wants to join the war effort, but his being a cripple stands in the way. It seems that everything important to him in life, such as sports, is denied him. He hates his loss of spontaneity, feels ashamed of his crippled body, and resents his dependence upon crutches and other people. In addition, he feels totally betrayed by his best friend, who has caused his handicap. Although it is a horrifying event, it is not surprising that Finny does not survive the minor surgery of having his leg set. He has made it clearly obvious that he has no reason to live.

Edwin Lepellier (Leper)

Leper, another student at Devon, is very different than his classmates. His total interest lies in the natural world. He spends his time sketching birds and looking for beaver damns. In fact, when all of his friends go to clear the railroad tracks so that the troop trains can pass, Leper refuses to go. He says he has no interest in war. It is then ironic that he is the first student in Gene's class at Devon to enlist in the armed services and leave school to fight in the war.

Leper cannot handle military regimen. The life of conformity and regulations demanded by the army destroys his individuality and takes away what is important to him in life. As a result, he goes crazy and is given a Section 8 discharge. When he returns to his home in Vermont, he sends a telegram to Gene and begs him to come for a visit. When Gene arrives, he is shocked at the changes in Leper and does not know how to handle them. When Leper suggests that Gene is responsible for Finny's accident, for he has been near the scene at the time, the two young men get into a fight. Gene, unable to control his fear and emotions, brutally knocks the chair out from underneath his psychotic friend.

Leper plays a very important role in the trial scene where the students are investigating Finny's accident. Since he was a distant witness, Leper is summoned for questioning. He says that it appeared that the figure lower in the tree bounced the limb, causing the other figure to fall. He refuses to give any details or answer any more questions. Although he does not give enough information for the students to accuse a culprit, he says enough to make Finny realize that Gene is the one responsible for his accident. Upset by this realization, Finny rushes from the room and falls down the stairs.

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