A Separate Peace Questions and Answers
by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace by John Knowles, what is Finny trying to say in the passage where he tells Gene he is his "best pal"? 

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In 1942, Gene and Phineas are good friends attending summer school at a private school called Devon. Gene excels academically and Phineas is the athlete. It is curious that these two would become close, but they are also roommates which encourages them to bond. Due to Finny's social and athletic prowess, though, Gene becomes competitive, jealous, and resentful. Phineas, on the other hand, has no clue that Gene feels this way. In fact, Finny thinks the two of them are the best friends in the world and he seems to force Gene to do whatever he feels like doing. For example, Finny wanted to go to the beach for the day, but he didn't want to go alone, so he drags Gene along. Finny expresses his feelings as follows:

"I know I kind of dragged you away at the point of a gun, but after all you can't come to the shore with just anybody and you can't come by yourself, and at this teen-age period in life the proper person is your best pal. . . which you are" (48).

In the above passage, Phineas is apologizing for making Gene break the school rules by leaving campus. Not only did they go to the beach, but they went to a bar, used fake IDs and drank alcohol. They slept that night on the beach, too. They both could have been kicked out of school had they been caught. It's interesting, though, that Gene isn't concerned so much about the rules that he breaks with Finny as he is with the fact that he's declared a "best pal." Gene explains as follows:

"It was a courageous thing to say. Exposing a sincere emotion nakedly like that at the Devon School was the next thing to suicide. I should have told him then that he was my best friend also. . . But something held me back" (48).

Sadly, Gene doesn't take Finny's friendship to heart as he should have because of his own personal flaws. Finny was just trying to tell Gene that he was grateful to have a close friend who could accompany him to the beach. Finny feels comfortable with Gene enough to be himself around him and that's a gift; but again, Gene doesn't really catch onto that gift until later because he was insecure within himself.

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