A Separate Peace Questions and Answers
by John Knowles

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How does Finny's invented game of "blitzball" work as a symbol of his approach to competition in A Separate Peace by John Knowles?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Finny's invented game of blitzball involves a ball carrier, who has to dodge everyone attempting to knock him down as he runs toward the river or tower. Gene mentions that the odds were "tremendously against the ball carrier," which naturally brings out Finny's exceptional athletic ability. As the game is being invented, Finny continuously stops the action in order to create rules for the spontaneous competition. When Gene passes the ball to Bobby, Bobby begins running close to Gene for protection. Finny again interrupts the game to explain, “There aren’t any teams in blitzball...we’re all enemies." (Knowles, 16). The fact that there are no teams and only enemies reflects Finny's attitude toward competition. Finny's competitive nature is highlighted in his every-man-for-himself approach to the game. Also, Finny is attracted to competition. Blitzball is an extremely difficult game to excel at because the odds are stacked against each individual person. However, Finny finds the competition exhilarating and is by far the best blitzball player on the campus.

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mwestwood, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In Chapter 3  of A Separate Peace, Finny names his game of blitzball after the German blitzkrieg, battle tactic of an overwhelming attack used in World War II. In this game, Finny alters the rules suddenly and without warning, giving himself the advantage in this game of competition.  Because of these unexpected alterations, no one can play blitzball as well as Finny who "brought his own athletic gifts to their highest pitch":

To escape the wolf pack which all the other players became, he created reverses and deceptions and acts of sheer mass hypnotism which were so extraordinary that they surprised even him.

Finny loves competition and he loves to win.  So in order to have fresh competition and to win, Finny creates the rules as he plays blitzball just as he breaks the 100 yard free-style record--because he can.  He always "wanted to see if I could do it"; Gene states in Chapter 3 that Finny "seem[s] too unusual for--not friendship , but too unusual for rivalry.

Interestingly, in playing blitzball, there are no teams; everyone is the enemy.  This is significant when placing the game in relation to Finny, who feels he must defeat everyone. Thus, there is a military aura to Finny's game.


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