Literapedia Book Notes for

A Separate Peace by John Knowles


Characters

  • Gene Forrester (ch. 1)-Finny's roommate/best friend, struggles with the depth of envy and internal rivalry.
  • Phineas/Finny (ch. 1)-Gene's roommate, athletic, moral, popular, and the object of Gene's resentment.
  • Leper Lepellier (ch. 1)- Too scared to jump from the tree, ends up being the first of Gene's classmates to go to war because of his disillusioned ideas about skiing to save soldiers; ends up mentally distraught, a runaway from war, and the first to accuse Gene of betraying Finny.
  • Chet Douglass (ch. 4)- Gene's only academic rival, but Gene easily surpasses Chet because Chet gets too caught up with particular subjects... too in love with learning.
  • Mr. Prud'homme (ch.2)- a substitute teacher and dorm master during the summer session, disregards Finny and Gene's trip to the beach, and is easily persuaded by Finny's charming talk.
  • Mr. Patch-Wither (ch. 2)- the headmaster during the summer session
  • Dr. Stanpole (ch. 5)- delivers the news to Gene about Finny's leg
  • Brinker Hadley (ch.6)- charismatic class politician, convinces Gene to join the army with him (until Finny returns). Leads the accusations against Gene at the book's conclusion.
  • Cliff Quakenbush (ch. 6)- the crew manager, wrestles with Gene in a fight, a bully.
  • Mr. Ludsbury (ch. 6)- the fall session's dormitory manager, accuses Gene of taking advantage of the lax Mr. Prud'homme.

Chapter Summaries

  1. Gene Forrester returns to visit the Devon School in New Hampshire, where he attended boarding school during World War II. He returns first to the marble staircase in one of the school's buildings, noting how hard the stone must be. Then he visits the river, and distinguishes a specific tree from his memories. Gene flashes back to his summer session at Devon in 1942, Finny, Gene, and three other boys are gathered beneath the aforementioned tree. Finny climbs up and jumps off, and pressures Gene to do the same. All the other boys refuse. Only upperclassmen usually climb this tree as part of their physical training. Finny and Gene wrestle each other on the way to the dining hall, then decide to skip dinner.
  2. Gene resents Finny's ability to consistently charm his way out of trouble. First Finny is able to talk Mr. Prud'homme out of a punishment for missing dinner. Then Finny is able to confidently wear a pink sweater as a testament to the Allied bombing of Central Europe. And later at Mr. Patch-Wither's headmaster's tea, Finny avoids condemnation for the disrespect he portrays by carelessly wearing his Devon uniform tie as a belt. That evening, Finny and Gene return to the river, they climb the tree and prepare to jump, however Gene loses balance, and Finny catches his arm... possibly saving his life. Finny and Gene create the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session (each new member must jump from this tree).
  3. Finny creates rules for the Super Suicide Society and gathers inductees. One of the rules requires that Finny and Gene start off each meeting by jumping from the tree. Gene never loses his fear of the tree, however he does not tell Finny. Finny is incredibly athletic, thus the summer session sports bore him. He creates his own sport known as Blitzball, and of course, he is the best at it. Finny challenges the school's swimming record, and beats it without practice. Gene is the only witness, but Finny swears him to secrecy. Finny convinces Gene to bicycle with him to the beach, despite the fact that it is strictly against school rules. Finny tells Gene that he is his best friend, however Gene does not respond.
  4. The next morning when Finny and Gene return from the beach, Gene flunks his first test. Gene creates a rivalry in his mind, and convinces himself of Finny's intentions to ruin his grades. While Finny is superior at athletics, Gene is superior at academics, and Gene hopes to become valedictorian in order to balance the score between himself and Finny. On the night before Gene's French exam, Finny calls a Super Suicide Society meeting, Leper Lepellier has decided to jump. Gene gets angry at Finny because he needs to study French. Finny apologizes. Gene realizes that Finny is his moral superior and the rivalry was only in his own mind. Gene decides to go to the meeting. When Gene and Finny climb the tree, Gene shakes the branch, causing Finny to fall.
  5. Finny's leg is shattered, he will never be able to play sports again. The news causes Gene to break down in tears. Finny requests to see Gene in the infirmary. During the visit, Gene comes close to admitting that he was the one who shook the branch, however he is interrupted, and while Finny suspects, he dismisses the idea and feels guilty of even mentally accusing Gene of such a thing. Finny is sent home for the remainder of the summer session. After the break between summer and fall sessions, Gene stops by to visit Finny on the way back to Devon. Gene tries to admit that he caused Finny's fall, however Finny gets angry and refuses to believe it. Gene realizes he must recount his confession later, because the truth only inflicts more pain on Finny.
  6. Gene returns to Devon. He does not have a roommate due to Finny's absence, however he lives in the same room as during the summer session. Brinker Hadley has moved in across the hall. Gene holds the position of assistant senior crew manager, working for Cliff Quakenbush. Quakenbush insults Gene for taking the position, and they end up in a fist fight. Mr. Lusbury reprehends Gene for his behavior during the summer session, and informs him that he has a phone call. Finny has called for Gene. Finny is glad to hear that Gene is back in a better state of mind (sane) unlike when he visited. When Finny asks about sports, he is disappointment by Gene's lack of involvement and demands that Gene play sports, since he himself can no longer participate.
  7. Winter arrives. Brinker Hadley visits with Gene, and jokingly accuses him of killing his roommate, Gene tries to go along with the joke, but is unsettled. Gene volunteers with several other boys to work on shoveling out the railroad. A train full of drafted young boys passes through. Brinker and Gene decide to join the military, however when Gene returns to his dorm that night, Finny is there.
  8. The next day, Gene denies Brinker's request to enlist, mocking the idea, in an attempt to appease Finny, who joins in on the mocking, giving Brinker the nickname, "yellow fever." Gene and Finny skip class. Instead, they go to locker room at the gym, and Finny confides in Gene about his past dreams of competing in the Olympics, denying the existence of war. According to Finny the war is a conspiracy, and slowly he convinces Gene of his theory. Now Gene must compete in his place at the '44 Olympics. Finny trains Gene, and Gene tutors Finny.
  9. Leper enlists in the ski troops, and the war becomes even more of a fallacy to Gene. Brinker jokingly attributes every Allied victory to Leper. Finny plans a winter carnival to display Gene's athletic superiority to his classmates. Amidst the cider, music, and sports competitions, the students become alive. Gene receives a telegram from Leper, demanding his help; Leper has escaped from war, and is waiting on Gene at the "Winter Location."
  10. Gene immediately goes to visit Leper at his home in Vermont (the "Winter Location"). To Gene's disbelief, Leper has deserted the army in order to avoid a discharge due to insanity. As Leper breaks down, he accuses Gene of shaking the limb that caused Finny to fall, and Gene kicks Leper's chair over in rage. Despite the uproar, Leper invites Gene to stay for lunch. After the meal, Gene and Leper go for a walk, and Leper tells Gene about his hallucinations during the war. Gene becomes distressed by Leper's words, and runs away in the snow.
  11. Gene returns to Devon. During a conversation with Brinker and Gene, Finny's disillusioned conspiracy theory of war begins to fade, and reality starts to set in. Finny finally admits the reality of WWII after seeing Leper hiding in the bushes behind the chapel that morning. In a conversation later that day, Brinker begins to subtly accuse Gene of shaking the limb that caused Finny to fall. That night Brinker takes Finny and Gene to one of the school's assembly halls, where a tribunal of boys interrogate Finny about what happened the night he fell from the tree. As Finny begins to remember, Brinker brings in Leper to testify. Finny runs from the room in tears. A few moments later, the boys hear Finny fall down the marble staircase.
  12. Gene stays up all night, he visits Finny in the infirmary, however Finny accuses of him of coming to break something else, so Gene apologizes and wanders around the campus all night. Dr. Stanpole tells Gene that Finny has broken his leg again, however the break is much cleaner than last time. When Gene brings some of Finny's belongings to the infirmary, Finny forces Gene to admit that it was just a sick impulse that caused him to jostle the limb that night, and that it was not a deep set feeling, and Gene complies. Finny tells Gene that the only reason that he ever denied the war was because he could not become a part of it, due to his leg. That afternoon, while the doctor is setting the bone in Finny's leg, complications incur Finny's death. Gene can not cry.
  13. Gene graduates and joins the Navy, Brinker joins the coast guard, much to the disapproval of Brinker's father. Gene returns to the present day, visiting Devon and reminiscing. He explains that everyone has an enemy, for many the enemy was uncovered in WWII. However, Gene never killed anyone in the war, he killed his enemy at Devon. Finny was the only exception in Gene's eyes, Finny never met his enemy, perhaps he did not have one, or chose never to perceive an adversary, unlike everyone else.

Student Contributor

Austen Siebenaler, 08