A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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In chapter 2, what is Gene begininning to realize about Phineas? A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In this chapter, Gene shows a keen awareness of Phineas's ability to charm authority figures and get away with anything by the force of his charisma. But this same admiration of his friend is beginning to lead to an envy that will later become corrosive:

I was beginning to see that Phineas could get away with anything. I couldn’t help envying him that a little, which was perfectly normal. There was no harm in envying even your best friend a little.

Gene is flattered and proud that Phineas has chosen him as his best friend, but he is also beginning to realize this comes with a price. He will always be, on some level, the second fiddle, as Finny has the ability to command attention and draw people to him in a way Gene can't. Second, when Finny insists on the dangerous feat of jumping out of the tree in the river, Gene almost falls. He is beginning to realize, as he articulates at the start of chapter three, that Finny is dangerous in his daring.

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Gene realizes in Chapter 2 of A Separate Peace by John Knowles that "Phineas was the essence of this careless peace," the reminder of what peace is like with the threat of war hovering over the adults.  Only sixteen, Finny and the other boys his age are registered with no draft board; they have not been tagged as defective in any way.

Absolutely amazed at Finny's ability to thwart authority, he witnesses the candor and innocence of Phineas as he displays a "calm ignorance of the rules with a winning urge to be good" that inevitability wins over authority.  As he boldly tells Mr. Prud'homme, who in spite of himself is pleased, that the real reason they have missed so many meals is the fact that they had to jump out of the tree, an act that is far more grievous than missing a meal.  But, the glib Phineas rambles on jovially about their going to be seventeen and they can soon join the army, so Mr. Prud'homme forgives the youths in their last chances at freedom. 

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