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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles
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In A Separate Peace, why is Brinker so determined to investigate the incident on the tree?

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Brinker has started to wonder if Gene isn't hiding something about the incident in which Finny fell from the tree and shattered his leg. As Gene states, describing Brinker's character:

Before he had always known and done whatever occurred to him because he was certain that whatever occurred to him was right.

When Finny and Gene arrive at the "court," not knowing what is about to happen, Brinker verbally jumps on Finny, saying to him:

We don’t want any mysteries or any stray rumors and suspicions left, in the air at the end of the year, do we?

In other words, Brinker suspects—and therefore is sure—there was foul play with the shaking branch that caused Finny to fall, and he wants to expose the truth. He is insensitive to how disturbing his method of doing so is to Finny and Gene.

Gene also realizes that Brinker is "enjoying" this trial, because he likes the idea of doling out justice.

Brinker is particularly insensitive and uncaring about the fact that his surprise courtroom hearing is very uncomfortable for both Gene and Finny. He is the type of person who enjoys the power of ferreting out the truth.

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A desire for certainty is one of Brinker's most prominent traits. He craves clarity. This is why Brinker insists on investigating the incident on the tree and why he is so eager to enlist in the armed services. 

Brinker's personality is of the type that can allow for very little confusion or indeterminancy. Things must be decided, clear and plain. This is, in part, why he has such a dislike for Leper, a confused and conflicted person. 

When Gene will not provide a clear and plain explanation for what happened at the tree, Brinker feels he must get an answer. He needs to know whether or not Gene is innocent and whether or not Finny should feel angry and want revenge. Brinker simply cannot handle not knowing. 

For the most part the conflicts in this novel take place internally and take the form of emotional and psychological conflict. If Brinker were a different person, he may have debated Gene's guilt and innocence quietly in his own mind. This is not a possibility for Brinker because it is not in his nature to keep internal conflicts to himself. He must externalize problems in order to solve them and he cannot leave a problem unsolved. 

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