Please explain the incident in the tree between Phineas and Gene in Chapter 4 of A Separate Peace.  When Gene bounces the tree and cause Phineas to fall, was this intended? Why did he do it?...

Please explain the incident in the tree between Phineas and Gene in Chapter 4 of A Separate Peace. 

When Gene bounces the tree and cause Phineas to fall, was this intended?

Why did he do it?

What was he thinking before he climbed the tree?

Why did he fearlessly jump from the tree after Finny fell?

Expert Answers
parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gene did indeed mean to throw Finny off balance, but he certainly did not forsee the tragic consequences of his fall. His shaking the tree, however, did not seem to be premeditated but was rather an act of blind, instinctive compulsion, much as the "Id" or "Hyde" coming to the surface in Gene's troubled psyche.

Unlike Phineas who took people and things and face value, Gene is psychologically more complicated.  He strives to do his best and "win," not just for himself but for the approbation of others. Whereas Phineas meets a challenge just for fun, Gene must perpetually feed his self-estime with landmarks of accomplishments. His vulnerable ego is like Gargantua, ever-consuming and never getting quite enough.

That is why Gene shook Finny in the tree. Phineas was more athletic, more graceful, more popular with the other boys than Gene  - in short, his rival.

About jumping "fearlessly." When I first read this, it reminded me of the ritual of the "primal boast" in Beowulf and other primitive literary works where the war hero or hunter ritually "struts his stuff" after battle or a kill. This was part of a recognition ritual in which he publically bragged about what he had done. Here Gene does the same. At this point the "Id" or primitive side is still very present, showing off in front of the other boys.

 

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A Separate Peace

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