In Chapter 9 of A Separate Peace, what could Finny and Brinker each symbolize?

Expert Answers
tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

By chapter 9 of A Separate Peace, the Devon School is blanketed with snow and most of the boys have the winter blues. This is the chapter when Phineas creates and holds a Winter Carnival which includes sporting events. This really helps to activate the boys and boost morale. Brinker Hadley, as well as most of the boys, will graduate and promptly enlist in the war within a few months. Phineas used to be a part of this same group, but since he broke his leg a few months before, he may not be able to enlist, now. In order to compensate for his feelings of displacement, Phineas has concocted a theory that there isn't any war at all. These two boys, Finny and Brinker, represent two different attitudes or belief systems. Finny is individualistic, dynamic and a free-thinker. Brinker, on the other hand, is a conservative, patriotic, and law-abiding citizen. Finny disclaims the war, whereas Brinker embraces it.

Gene describes himself at this time in the following passage, but it also describes Finny very well, too:

"What deceived me was my own happiness; for peace is indivisible, and the surrounding world confusion found no reflection inside me. So I ceased to have any real sense of it" (123).

Gene is saying that if a person creates happiness for himself, he will also experience peace. Since he was happy and at peace, he was therefore void of confusion or fear. If a person finds a happy place, for example, why leave? This is what Finny does--he finds his happy place, or he creates one like the Winter Carnival--and he holds onto it.

In contrast, Brinker values logic and responds to reality as told to him by teachers, parents, and newspapers. In the Butt Room, Brinker reads the papers to those who are there smoking with him and they discuss the war. Brinker even gets Gene to become excited about enlisting at one point; but they can't do much until they turn 18 or graduate. In chapter 9, though, Brinker starts to phase out school activities as if he were trunky and ready to move on with life:

"If he could not enlist--and for all his self-sufficiency Brinker could not do much without company--he could at least cease to be so multifariously civilian" (130).

Gene goes on to say that Brinker drops being president of the clubs he's in, stops writing in the school newspaper, stops singing in the choir, and stops wearing preppy clothing. It's as if he's mentally and physically separating himself from civilian life in preparation for a military one.

Phineas therefore represents pacifists and Brinker represents realists. People deal with crises differently. Teenagers grow, mature, and accept reality differently. People take on the world differently and these two certainly represent two groups of people seen during World War II as well as today.

Read the study guide:
A Separate Peace

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question