Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
With its publication in the United States in 1960 (it was first published in England), John Knowles’s short novel A Separate Peace became an instant success with young readers. Within that year, the book was granted three awards: the first William Faulkner Foundation Award, the Rosenthal Award of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the National Association of Independent Schools Award.
The novel has a simple story line presented initially in the first-person voice, but it quickly modifies to a dual view of events as experienced in a flashback view of incidents that occurred fifteen years before the opening scene, coupled with a mature assessment of those incidents. This combination of narrative voices gives the tale the immediacy of an eyewitness account while providing the author wide-ranging possibilities for omniscient commentary on the larger meaning of events.
The main setting of the novel is the Devon School in the hills of New Hampshire during the summer session of 1942 and the academic year that follows. The action focuses on a small group of boys completing their junior year by taking accelerated summer courses to allow them the extra time they will need as seniors to participate in training activities readying them to join the armed forces at war in Europe and Asia. The war and their proximity to participation in it are sustained factors in the minds of the boys, though they feign a youthful indifference to its...
(The entire section is 1210 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
The entire story of A Separate Peace is narrated by the main character, Gene Forrester. Every action in the novel is presented through his eyes, as Forrester looks back upon the summer and fall of 1942 from the perspective of 1957. Gene Forrester, therefore, is a thirty-one-year-old man looking back at the year 1942, when he was sixteen years old at the Devon School.
Gene Forrester has come to Devon from the South, although Knowles never specifically identifies Forrester’s home state. At Devon, Forrester is exposed to a distinctly New England environment as personified by three characters at the school: Brinker Hadley, Elwin “Leper” Lepellier, and Phineas (called “Finny,” with no last name given). There is not much action in A Separate Peace, as the novel primarily explores the highly complex psychological bond that is established between Forrester and Finny. Whereas Forrester is an exemplary student, Finny is indifferent to his classroom activities and does not envy Forrester’s superiority in his studies. Finny is, however, a superior athlete, and Forrester is clearly envious of, yet attracted to, his friend’s physical prowess.
The first four chapters of A Separate Peace are perhaps the most important in the novel. While he is drawn to Finny, especially as Finny possesses a carefree attitude toward everything around him, Forrester feels compelled to compete with his friend: Finny wins the Galbraith...
(The entire section is 721 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In 1958, Gene Forrester returns to his preparatory school, the Devon School, and reflects on the events that occurred there fifteen years prior. His memories start with the summer session of 1942 and end after a tragic event during the 1943 school year. Central to Gene’s reflections is his relationship with his roommate and best friend Phineas, who most people affectionately call “Finny.”
As a student, Gene is a far more dedicated and successful than Finny, but he feels threatened by Finny’s athleticism. Gene also envies his friend for several reasons, including his honesty and his ability to get away with almost anything: School administrators rarely punish Finny since they are quelled by his sincere charm. Gene also proves subject to Finny’s charisma. The two often flout rules together, and in one instance they bike to the ocean. While there, Finny tells Gene that he considers Gene his best friend; Gene says nothing in return.
The summer of 1942 appears peaceful, and the students seem somehow apart from the rest of the world, which is plagued by the effects of World War II. On Finny’s initiative, some students form the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. The society’s members engage in daring actions, such as jumping from an enormous tree into the river below. Gene and Finny jump together, and Finny considers this jump symbolic of the solidarity of their friendship. Meanwhile, Gene’s feelings of jealousy toward Finny...
(The entire section is 966 words.)
A Separate Peace was recognized immediately as an extremely sensitive account of a young man's self-discovery through the process of maturation, and the passage of time has not lessened its universal appeal. John Knowles identifies and examines some of the crucial questions a young man might ask about himself and the world during his later teenage years. Knowles's evocation of the moods of developing manhood is deeply felt, precisely rendered, and exceptionally incisive. The novel captures a period of life in which everything seems intense and important, in which decisions must be made that may affect one's entire life, in which action is seen with rare moral clarity, and in which an almost desperate sense of potential loss (of innocence, of uniqueness, of importance) underlies every act.
In addition, Knowles uses an extremely effective method for organizing this narrative of self-discovery. At the core of the story, the narrator undergoes an epiphany, a moment of irrevocable displacement that haunts the remainder of his life and reverberates throughout the book. Unsure of its meaning at the instant it occurs, the narrator finds that the incident symbolizes for him the awesome power of revelation, the moment of vision that shapes a life and defines existence, offering access to the secrets of the innermost self. The progress of the narration is controlled by a concentration on the full meaning of this incident and, by implication, on the...
(The entire section is 328 words.)
In John Knowles's A Separate Peace, Gene Forrester returns to visit New Hampshire's Devon School after a fifteen-year absence. He recalls his complex relationship with his roommate and best friend, Phineas. His narrative begins during the summer of 1942, when Phineas goads him into jumping off a tree into the Devon River. Phineas—nicknamed Finny—is the best athlete in school, with a charismatic personality that wins over both teachers and students. He lives a life ruled by inspiration and anarchy, following his own set of rules and appearing tireless.
Gene has mixed feelings about Phineas: despite his admiration and gratitude for their friendship, he envies Finny's apparent ease and the charm which allows him to break school rules without reproof. Nevertheless, when Phineas suggests they form a secret society, whose membership requires jumping from the tree into the river, Gene agrees.
When Gene fails a test after a clandestine trip to the beach with Phineas, he decides that Finny is trying to jeopardize his studies. One night before another exam, Phineas asks Gene to come to the tree to witness Leper Lepellier make the jump. Gene declines, saying that he needs to study. When Phineas accepts his excuse, Gene realizes his suspicions were unfounded. This makes him feel inferior to Phineas. He stops studying, visits the tree, and agrees to Finny's suggestion of jumping from the tree together. When they're both balanced on its branch,...
(The entire section is 1472 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
Gene Forrester returns to the Devon School fifteen years after his matriculation. He is surprised that the school seems more "sedate" and "shiny" than he remembers it. He attributes this observation to the fact that when he was a student at Devon, there had been a war going on. It is a dreary November day, and Gene feels "fear's echo," a remembrance of the mood that overshadowed everything in those days. He is surprised to discover that, somewhere along the way, the fear has left him, without his even noticing. There are two places Gene particularly wants to see again; the first of these is the foyer of the First Academy Building. Gene notes the hardness of the marble floor in the foyer and the staircase leading down to it. It is unchanged, but he himself is "taller, bigger," successful now, and secure. Everything about the environment seems to have achieved a sense of harmony with the past, and Gene hopes that perhaps he too has reached that level of growth and reconciliation within himself.
Gene exits the First Academy Building and walks past the Field House and across the Playing Fields. He comes to the second place he had wanted to visit—the river, and a particularly tall and forbidding tree that grows on its bank. Gene is surprised to find that the tree he is searching for no longer stands out, and when he finally identifies it, it looks "weary from age, enfeebled, dry." Gene is thankful to have seen it and to realize that it no longer instills fear within him. He heads back, "changed;" it is time to let the fear go.
The tree had once been "tremendous, an irate, steely black steeple beside the river." Wooden pegs had been set on its trunk to allow for easy climbing, and from one particularly substantial limb, one could, "by a prodigious effort," jump out far enough to land safely in the water. Only Phineas, brash and charismatic, would have thought to suggest jumping from the tree that long ago summer of 1942. Gene and three others had been present when Finny boldly scrambled up the wooden pegs, stepped out on the branch, and leaped into the river. Goaded by Finny, Gene, wondering why he so easily fell prey to his friend's suggestions, climbed up next, and, filled with trepidation, jumped into the river as well. Finny subsequently challenged the others—Leper Lepellier, Chet Douglass, and Bobby Zane—to follow his and Gene's daring example, but none of them would do it. The six o'clock bell rang, and the boys...
(The entire section is 561 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
As a consequence of having missed dinner, Gene and Finny are visited the next morning by Mr. Prud'homme, a substitute teacher for the summer. When questioned about their whereabouts the night before, Finny blithely explains, with "scatterbrained eloquence," that he and Gene had been swimming in the river, had engaged in a wrestling match, and had stopped to watch the sunset. His manner is so earnest and his excuses so preposterous that Mr. Prud'homme is won over despite himself. Even Finny's confession that they also "just had to jump out of that tree," an act which is more condemning than missing a meal, does not bring down upon the boys the punishment which they probably deserve. Gene is amazed at Finny's uncanny capability for getting away with things; the Devon faculty obviously has never had to deal with a student who combines so well "a calm ignorance of the rules with a winning urge to be good." Gene also notes, however, that he and his classmates, who at sixteen are too young to be drafted, are a symbol to the school establishment of "what peace (is) like," and as such, they are treated with indulgence.
Finny continues with his ingenuous shenanigans the next day, when the Upper Middlers attend a traditional term tea at the home of Mr. Patch-Withers and his wife. Finny goes dressed in a shocking pink shirt that no one else in the school could have worn without drawing scathing ridicule from his peers. Finny, however, wears it with aplomb, declaring it an emblem of his solidarity with the Allied forces. The atmosphere at the tea is awkward and strained, and Phineas alone talks easily, expounding on news of a bombing in Central Europe. In a conversation which is one-sided for the simple reason that no one else knows what he is talking about, Finny discusses the conditions surrounding the purported bombing, and in his fervor, unbuttons his jacket, revealing that instead of a belt, he has secured around his waist the Devon School tie. Mr. and Mrs. Patch-Withers are aghast at this sacrilege, but, with typical coolness, Finny explains that his use of the tie is also a sign of solidarity with the war effort, signifying that Devon too is loyal to the Allies. Gene, who is sure that Finny will not get away with his audacious behavior this time, is shocked and a little disappointed when Mr. Patch-Withers amazingly begins to laugh. Finny has successfully thwarted authority yet again. Gene is becoming increasingly confused about his...
(The entire section is 640 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Finny had practically saved Gene's life by keeping him from falling from the tree, but he had practically lost it for him too, because Gene would never have been up in the tree in the first place but for Finny's influence. The Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session is an instant success, with friends of Gene and Finny signing up to be "trainees." Finny decrees that the Society should meet every night, and that he and Gene should open each meeting by jumping from the tree. Gene, though he abhors the ritual, never considers not jumping, because he does not want to lose face with Phineas.
Finny, who loves sports, is quite disgusted with the athletic program in the summer, which consists of "a little tennis, some swimming, clumsy softball games, (and) badminton" for the underclassmen; the seniors, of course, engage in calisthenics and other activities which will prepare them to fight in the war. As he and Gene walk across the fields one afternoon, Finny spots a medicine ball someone has left behind and, with the group of Upper Middlers who are gathered around, creates a game which he dubs "blitzball," making up the rules as the group plays along. In blitzball, there are no teams; everyone is the enemy. The game, which requires limitless energy and calculated, unexpected maneuvers, showcases Phineas's athletic strengths perfectly and is "the surprise of the summer; everyone play(s) it." Gene believes that a form of the game endures at Devon to the present day.
In the summer of 1942, the war overshadows everything. Gene remembers the war as the defining event of his life; all his future perceptions are colored by it, and it is the "moment in history...(which) imprint(s) itself upon him...forever." During these summer days, however, the Upper Middlers, still for the most part only sixteen years old, enjoy a respite from the drab reality of the world, and Finny achieves "certain feats as an athlete," to the knowledge of only himself and Gene. In his carefree, nonchalant manner, Finny one day notices that the school swimming record is held by a student named A. Hopkins Parker, and decides on a whim to try and beat it. With only Gene as a witness, Finny, without ever practicing, beats Parker's record by a fraction of a second, but when Gene excitedly insists that Finny should perform his feat again in front of the coach and a qualified timekeeper to make it official, Finny vehemently demurs, saying that...
(The entire section is 619 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
When Gene awakens on the beach the next morning, he realizes that his trigonometry test is going to begin in just a few hours. Finny, however, calculates that there is time for a short swim before leaving, so the boys arrive back at Devon just in time for Gene's test, which he fails. In the afternoon, Finny arranges for the group to play a game of blitzball, and right after dinner, there is a meeting of the Super Suicide Society. That night, as Gene tries desperately to catch up on the work in which he has been falling behind, Finny asks him why he always works so hard, commenting that he must be vying to graduate at the head of the class so that he will be able to make a speech on Graduation Day. Finny's words bring Gene to the stunning realization that his friend is trying to sabotage his efforts to get good grades, in a twisted scheme to come out on top in their rivalry. In trying to understand Finny's motivation, Gene notes that Phineas is a poor student, but he is "without question the best athlete" in the school. Gene, on the other hand, is an excellent student and a pretty fair athlete as well. If Gene should graduate at the top of the class, he will have won the competition between the two of them, something Finny is obviously trying to prevent. Feeling completely betrayed, Gene vows to keep up his guard against Finny's perceived duplicity, but as the summer wanes, his feelings of animosity start to fade, and he begins to forget "whom (he) hate(s) and who hate(s) (him)."
Gene continues to attend the meetings of the Super Suicide Society and executes the nightly jumps from the tree, demonstrating his own competitiveness. During finals, Gene is studying for a French examination when Finny, with typical exuberance, announces that an especially important meeting of the Society will be held that evening because Leper Lepellier has promised to jump from the tree for the very first time. Gene, who does not for a minute believe that Leper will follow through, thinks that Finny has put Leper up to it for the express purpose of "finish(ing) (Gene) for good on the exam," and he reacts with anger and frustration. He is astonished, however, when Finny, with complete candidness, expresses surprise that Gene actually has to study. Finny had believed that, just as athletics come naturally to himself, good grades come effortlessly to Gene. When he realizes the truth, Phineas is adamant that Gene should stay and study, but Gene,...
(The entire section is 528 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
There is no news about Finny from the infirmary during the following few days, other than the information that one of his legs has been "shattered." Finny's injury has a significant effect on the masters, who seem to feel that it is somehow unfair that a sixteen-year-old, one of the few boys who do not yet have to suffer because of the war, should be struck down in such a manner. Burdened with the knowledge that he had caused the accident, Gene is overcome with guilt, but surprisingly, no one appears to suspect his role in what had happened. One morning, Dr. Stanpole accosts Gene, telling him that Finny is better and "could stand a visitor or two." Dr. Stanpole says that although Finny has endured a "messy break" and will hereafter be unable to participate in sports, he will most certainly, at least, walk again. Unable to fathom the reality that Finny's life will be forever altered by the accident, Gene, crushed with remorse, breaks down and cries, but Dr. Stanpole, telling him that Finny has asked to see him specifically, admonishes him to be cheerful and strong for his friend's sake. Gene goes with the doctor to the infirmary, fully expecting Finny to accuse him of causing the accident.
Gene finds Phineas lying among pillows and sheets, physically diminished and pale, and drugged, his eyes "clouded and visionary." He is actually in amazingly good spirits, but Gene, tormented, babbles instinctively about the accident, never quite acknowledging his guilt, but asking Finny instead, "What happened there at the tree?" Finny responds vaguely that he remembers only that "something jiggled," and he "just fell." He recalls seeing an "awfully funny expression" on Gene's face and reaching out momentarily to him for help, but to no avail. For an awful moment, Finny mentions a feeling he had, that Gene had jostled the branch, but in thinking out loud to himself, he concludes that his feeling makes no sense, and apologizes for even thinking that Gene might have wanted to hurt him. Gene, realizing that Finny would have told the truth if their positions had been switched, tries to work up the courage to confess his guilt, but Dr. Stanpole comes in at that moment. Gene is sent away and thereafter receives the news that Finny has been taken back to his home outside of Boston.
The Summer Session ends, and Gene returns to his hometown for a short vacation. At the end of September he starts back to Devon, but on the way,...
(The entire section is 614 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
With the beginning of the Winter Session, peace officially deserts Devon. Formality and order replace the easygoing aura of summer, and at the first chapel service, the masters sit in their stalls in front of and at right angles to the student body, as if "they (have) never been away." Continuity is the keynote of the ceremony, although five of the regular teachers are missing because they have gone to war, and it is announced that maids will be unavailable "for the Duration." Gene reflects that the assertion that the traditions of Devon have never been broken is a fallacy; during the summer, "all rules (had been) forgotten." Still, that halcyon time had ended with Phineas's accident, and Gene recognizes that perhaps that tragedy proved the necessity of rules after all. The summer has changed Gene irrevocably, and he is loathe to give up the innocence and freedom of the time, as symbolized by Leper Lepellier's "creeping ivy and snails," to reenter the world of power and intrigue, as represented by the neat and orderly files of the year's "dominant student," Brinker Hadley.
All students are required to participate in a sport during the term, and Gene signs up to be the assistant manager of the crew team. The job is a "nonentity," usually filled by boys with some kind of physical disability. Gene, wounded in spirit by the knowledge of his culpability in Finny's accident, reflects that his trouble cannot be detected by the naked eye. Gene finds that his hopes of simply performing his duties "like the automaton (he) wishe(s) to be" are not to be fulfilled, when he is challenged by the crew manager, Cliff Quackenbush. The two boys fight, falling into the brackish Naguamsett River, and Gene is dismissed from his position as assistant manager before he even begins. As he trudges away from the Crew House, wet and miserable, Gene is approached by Mr. Ludsbury, the master in charge of the dormitories. Mr. Ludsbury has heard that illicit "gaming" had gone on in the dorms during the Summer Session, and he reprimands Gene for not having helped the substitute, Mr. Prud'homme, maintain the high standards of Devon in his absence. Gene, even as he recollects the "nights of black-jack and poker and unpredictable games invented by Phineas," feigns innocence, and when Mr. Ludsbury is done with his obligatory lecture, he grudgingly informs Gene that he has received a long-distance call. Mr. Ludsbury gives him permission to go into his office to dial...
(The entire section is 634 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
After Gene has showered to wash away the sticky residue of the Naguamsett River, Brinker Hadley comes across the hall to visit him. Brinker is nattily dressed, looking like "the standard preparatory school article" in his gray gabardine suit, conservative tie, and cordovan shoes. Making himself at home, Brinker comments jokingly that Gene must wield quite a bit of influence to have a room all to himself, and he facetiously suggests that Gene must have plotted his roommate's demise to achieve this end. Brinker's playful accusations strike too close to the truth, making Gene very uncomfortable. Gene tries to change the subject, suggesting that they go down to the Butt Room for a smoke. The Butt Room, a drab, unpleasant place in the basement of the dormitory, is occupied by about ten smokers, and Brinker continues his joking, pushing Gene ahead of him and announcing that he is turning the "prisoner...over to the proper authorities." As the other boys join in the banter, Gene at first reacts angrily, then tries to play along, but there is an "unsettling current" in the atmosphere. Gene soon leaves, saying that he has to get back to his studies. After he is gone, the boys note that Gene had come "all the way down (there) and didn't even have a smoke."
The incident in the Butt Room is quickly forgotten, as the students become immersed in "classes and sports and clubs...(and) the war." The events occurring in the world encroach upon Devon gradually. First, there is a call for volunteers to help harvest the local apple crop, because the usual workers are all involved in the war effort. Winter arrives, and the boys are asked to help clear the snow at the railroad yard; Gene and most of his classmates volunteer. The exception is Leper Lepellier, who, seemingly oblivious to what is going on around him, goes out skiing, looking for a beaver dam. Gene alone appreciates Leper's innocent devotion to the natural world; the other boys make fun of him, regarding him as odd and completely out of touch. The work at the railroad yard is grueling, and the lightheartedness which had characterized the job at the apple orchard is gone. When the tracks are cleared, a train passes through, and the boys cheer heartily when they discover that the cars are filled with soldiers, "all young...clean and energetic." The experience causes Gene and the other volunteers to evaluate their own situation at Devon, and, finding that their studies seem irrelevant and...
(The entire section is 546 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
When Gene enters the room, Phineas comments immediately on his grungy attire, and Gene tells him that he has been shoveling snow on the railroad. Reaching for a pair of crutches, Finny "vault(s)" across the room to his cot and complains when he sees it is not made up. Gene, a little irritated at his roommate's attitude, reminds him that there are no maids because there is a war on. Gene makes the bed up for Finny and falls asleep while Finny, as is his habit, is still talking. In the morning, Finny demands to hear once again why there are no maids. Brinker Hadley bounds into the room, enthusiastically asking Gene if he is ready to sign up before he notices that Finny is back. After greeting Finny, Brinker "curl(s) his lip" at Gene, making a snide remark to the effect that Gene's plot to do away with his roommate did not work after all. Finny asks Gene what Brinker is talking about, and Gene's answer addresses Brinker's first comment, which is safer than bringing up the "catastrophic joke" about the nefarious plot Gene had allegedly sought to undertake against Finny. Gene tells Finny that Brinker wants to know if he, Gene, will enlist in the war that day. Finny, looking uncharacteristically troubled, asks quietly when Gene plans to leave. Gene comes to the amazing realization that Phineas needs him and does not want him to go. Gene's fervor to enlist is wiped away immediately by this sudden awareness, and he dismisses the idea as "nutty," bringing a "wide and dazzled smile" to Phineas's face.
For Gene, "peace (has) come back to Devon" with Finny's return. Gene notes that the environment at the school is "a nest of traps" for someone with Finny's disability. Outdoors, there are icy patches everywhere, and in the buildings themselves, the floors and stairs are made of "smooth, slick marble, more treacherous even than the icy walks." Finny, who had always been blessed with exceptional balance and grace, now "hobble(s)" among the the patches of ice on the grounds. Instead of attending school on his first day back, Finny wants to go to the gym and prevails upon Gene to ditch class with him. As the two sit in the familiar environs of the locker room, Finny commands Gene to do a few dozen chin ups on a bar, telling him that it is Gene who is going to have to be "the big star now." He asks Gene why he has not signed up for a sport, and Gene replies that "sports don't seem so important with the war on." Unexpectedly, Finny reacts...
(The entire section is 792 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Although Gene does not ever believe Finny's assertion that "the whole production of World War II (is) a trick of the eye manipulated by a bunch of calculating fat old men," he is drawn into Finny's "vision of peace" nonetheless. The happiness he derives from the delusion is so great that he is not even shaken when Leper Lepellier, an unlikely candidate, becomes the first to enlist among his classmates. Early in January, a recruiter from the United States ski troops had come to Devon and shown a film depicting "the cleanest image of war (Gene) had ever seen." Leper, who will shortly turn eighteen and lose his chance to choose the branch of the military in which he will serve, is enchanted by the images of "skiers in white shrouds" winging their way down pristine slopes; he makes his decision, and is gone. Leper's enlistment at first makes the war seem even more unreal to the classmates he has left behind, as they cannot reconcile the idea of the quirky, gentle-spirited boy becoming a soldier. Soon, however, Leper becomes their "liaison with World War II." Under the leadership of Brinker, they imagine Leper as being intimately involved in the key events reported in the news. Everyone begins to contribute to the tales of his great exploits except Phineas. Finny fastidiously avoids any talk having to do with the critical events of the times, and creates a world of his own where there is no war, drawing only Gene along with him.
Late winter Saturday afternoons are especially boring and depressing at the school, and to alleviate the dreary mood, Finny organizes the Devon Winter Carnival. Although the students have become increasingly apathetic about anything civilian, they succumb to Finny's unbounded enthusiasm for the project and grudgingly take part. On the Saturday of the scheduled event, the necessary props are set up by the boys at the small park on the bank of the Naguamsett River. Their most "cautiously guarded treasure" includes several jugs of "very hard cider" which they have somehow managed to obtain, and which they have buried in the snow at the center of the park for safekeeping. Around the cider, "sloppy statues" made of snow and parodying the various masters are arranged, along with a large, circular classroom table on which an eccentric variety of prizes are to be displayed. The prizes include Finny's old icebox, a Webster's Collegiate Dictionary "with all the most stimulating words marked," and a copy of the
(The entire section is 645 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
By the time Gene was to have become a soldier, the war would be in its closing stages, and his "chief war memory" would be traveling back and forth "through unknown parts of America" in an endless "nighttime ricochet." The first of these excursions is his trip to Leper's home in the austere, frozen landscape of upstate Vermont. The Lepellier home is not far from the nearest town, but as there are no taxis or other means of transportation there, Gene must walk the last leg of his journey. When he arrives at his destination, he finds that Leper is waiting for him, standing in one of the "long and narrow windows" that adorn the front of the house. When Gene enters the doorway, Leper beckons him to the dining room which he says, without preamble, is the place where he spends most of his time. Leper finds the dining room to be comforting, as opposed to the living room, because "you never wonder what's going to happen" there.
Gene finds that Leper's demeanor is markedly changed; he no longer exhibits "the careful politeness" and innocence that characterized him at Devon. Leper's face has a "dull expression," and there is an involuntary tic on the left side. Leper is quickly reduced to tears as he bitterly confesses that he did not receive a "pass" to come home; he has instead deserted in a desperate attempt to avoid a Section Eight discharge, which would have declared him mentally unfit for duty and stigmatized him for life. With an attitude of complete despair, Leper tells Gene that his experiences during the past weeks have forced him to admit a lot of things to himself, including the fact that Gene, whom he had always thought of as "a swell guy," is really "a savage underneath...like that time (he) knocked Finny out of that tree."
Gene reacts violently to Leper's blunt accusation, knocking the hysterical boy's chair over while he continues spewing forth damning comments about the incident, simultaneously laughing and crying with wild incoherence. Leper's mother, alerted by the uproar, comes in at this point, and Gene apologizes, saying that he had better be going, but Leper, still chuckling, asks him to stay. Too ashamed now to leave, Gene stays for lunch and, to his further embarrassment, finds that he is famished, and consumes a great deal while Leper eats "almost nothing." Mrs. Lepellier, mollified because Gene apparently likes her cooking, suggests that the boys take a walk after their meal. As they tramp across...
(The entire section is 677 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
After his disturbing encounter with Leper, Gene wants only to see Phineas, who has managed to create for himself a world without conflict. When he gets back to Devon, he finds Finny in the midst of a raucous snowball fight, frolicking in the farthest northern reaches of the campus with a group of classmates, "the cream of the school, the lights and leaders of the senior class." Gene, not wanting to be questioned about Leper, tries to escape discreetly, but he is quickly initiated into the game by a snowball thrown at his head by Phineas. The fight deteriorates into hilarious confusion as, following Finny's lead, all loyalties are abandoned. As the teams disintegrate, the fight ends "in the only way possible": everyone gangs up on Phineas, who goes down smiling beneath a "blizzard of snowballs."
Later, it occurs to Gene to ask Finny if he should not be more cautious because of his leg, which is still encased in a small cast. Finny concedes that Dr. Stanpole has cautioned him not to fall again, but feels that his bone has healed and is even stronger now than it was before. After dinner, Brinker comes to Gene and Finny's room, and asks how Leper is doing. Gene candidly tells him that Leper has deserted, and Brinker instinctively understands that Leper has cracked under the pressures of military life. When Gene affirms that Brinker is correct, Brinker laments that someone should have realized that Leper was not cut out to be in the army. He notes the irony that the senior class of 1943 has "two men sidelined for the Duration" already, before they have even gotten the chance to fight in the war. When Gene asks Brinker who the second sidelined man is, Brinker indicates Finny, and Gene, mindful of his roommate's feelings, tries heartily to downplay the seriousness of his condition, bringing up Finny's carefully constructed rationale that the war is an illusion anyway. For the first time, however, Phineas does not play along; instead, with a tone of quiet irony, he brings to a close "all his special inventions which had carried (them) through the winter." The war is real, and no one will henceforth be able to pretend otherwise.
As spring arrives, there is very little left at Devon which is not directly connected to the war. Recruiters arrive daily, trying to interest the seniors in one of the many branches of service, but now that their time of involvement in the war is rapidly approaching, the boys are no longer in a...
(The entire section is 975 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Everyone reacts with complete presence of mind in the wake of Phineas's fall. Gene wants desperately to be among those ministering to Finny, but discreetly hangs back, knowing that he was the cause of his friend's precipitous reaction. Dr. Stanpole is summoned and, after examining Finny, arranges to have him transported to the infirmary. Before he leaves, the doctor tells Gene that Finny's leg is broken again, but that it is a simple fracture this time.
Gene makes his way across the darkened campus to the infirmary and crouches in the grass beneath the window of Finny's room, listening to the murmur of voices coming from within. As the minutes pass, Gene thinks about the people inside, recalling each of their individual idiosyncrasies, and incongruously imagines Finny speaking to them only in Latin. This thought makes him want to laugh out loud, and to keep himself from doing so, he stops his mouth with his fist. When he has regained control, he notices that his hand is covered with tears. Finally, Dr. Stanpole leaves, and Gene goes up to the window of Finny's room, calling his friend's name. When Finny realizes it is Gene, he "thrashe(s) wildly in the darkness," vainly struggling "to unleash his hate against (him)." Gene watches helplessly as Finny falls from the bed and onto the floor, his fury spent. Finny has not hurt himself, and Gene knows better than to enter the room and help him back into bed. He calls out blindly, "I'm sorry," and walks away, wandering aimlessly through the night, oddly disconnected from the "overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around (him)."
Gene awakens the next morning in the shelter of the school stadium. Mechanically, he returns to his room, where he finds a note for him from Dr. Stanpole, requesting that he bring some of Finny's clothes to the infirmary. With a sense of having done this before, Gene packs items into Finny's suitcase, walks to the infirmary, and goes to his friend's room. Finny greets Gene impassively and asks him to bring the suitcase to him, going through its contents with uncharacteristic care. Gene notices that Finny's hands are shaking so badly he can hardly grasp the items. Seeing this releases something within Gene, and he tells Finny, "I tried to tell you before, I tried to tell you when I came to Boston that time!" Finny, his voice breaking, says he remembers that and asks why Gene had come by the night before. Gene has no answer, other than...
(The entire section is 738 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
In June, the war comes to Devon in a concrete way when the Far Common is donated to the war effort. The campus will host a Parachute Riggers' school, and troops arrive in jeeps and heavy trucks, all painted in olive drab. No one has ever accused Gene for being responsible for what had happened to Phineas; in fact, no one talks about Phineas at all. As he watches the Headmaster welcome the assembled troops, Gene takes note of the beautiful New England day that surrounds them. Despite the trappings of war which have encroached upon the school, in Gene's mind peace still "lays on Devon like a blessing, the summer's peace," carried over from the year before.
Brinker's dad arrives at the school and asks to meet Brinker and Gene in the Butt Room. He is a tall, distinguished-looking gentleman, and he tells the boys that they are "the image of (him) and (his) gang in the old days." He is excited about the war, and wishes he were still young enough to take part in it. Mr. Hadley asks Gene what branch of the military he will be entering. Gene replies honestly that he did not want to wait to be drafted because then he would have been assigned to the infantry, the "dirtiest...(and) most dangerous branch of all." Gene has instead enlisted in the Navy, with hopes that he will receive "a lot of training, and...never see a foxhole." Brinker, like Gene, has signed up for what he hopes is a comparatively safe military assignment and is "all set for the Coast Guard."
Mr. Hadley cannot completely conceal his disapproval of the boys' approaches. He admonishes them about the importance of their war memories and the pride they will derive later if they can say that they "were up front where there was some real shooting going on." He calls this the boys' "greatest moment" and stresses that they will need to do "a heck of a lot more than just what (they) have to" if they want a military record they can be proud of. Brinker later apologizes to Gene for his father's attitude, complaining that his father and his "crowd" are responsible for the war and are forcing their sons to fight it for them. Gene reflects that Brinker's interpretation of events is ironically similar to Finny's, but for himself, he does not agree with either of them. To Gene, it seems clear that
wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart....
(The entire section is 662 words.)