A Separate Peace Questions and Answers
by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace, how is Blitzball played? How do the rules of the game and the skills to play it reflect Finny's character?

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Finny's character is not only competitive and athletic, but also charismatic, humble and social. He's competitive and athletic because he loves to show his strength during sports, but he is humble because he isn't one to go around bragging about breaking the school's swimming record or anything of that sort. He is charismatic because he can get peers and teachers alike to listen to him and he is social because his philosophy seems to be "the more the merrier." All of these character traits come into play when Phineas creates the game blitzball.

Blitzball gets its name from the German word Blitzkrieg, which means "lightning war." Thus, Finny's game literally means "lightning ball." The object of the game is to run with the ball from the tower to the river without being tackled. However, since Finny is humble as well as social, one of the rules is, "Don't hog it! . . . Throw it to somebody else" (37).

Another rule that shows Finny's competitiveness is described when he says, "Now that we've got you surrounded, one of us will knock you down" (37). It is illegal to use one's arms or elbows to tackle the ball carrier. When tackling, one must cross his arms in front of his chest and ram the carrier of the ball. When passing the ball to avoid being tackled, the ball can touch the ground before someone else picks it up to carry it.

Next, there are no teams because, as Phineas says, "we're all enemies" (38). Whoever achieves a successful and legal tackle naturally gains possession of the ball and starts to run. If someone refuses a pass, the original ball carrier must pick up the ball again. This could set the ball carrier up for a tackle because of having to pause to pick up the ball again. One must maintain good stamina because the game forces players to be continually running.

Finally, Phineas creates different plays as he develops the rules of the game. Gene notices Finny laughing to himself at how cleverly he devises new ways to make the game more interesting. Gene also observes the following about Phineas:

"In such a nonstop game he also had the natural advantage of a flow of energy which I never saw interrupted. I never saw him tired, never really winded, never overcharged and never restless" (39).

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The rules of blitzball are made up by Finny as he goes along. The game is played with a heavy ball, probably a medicine ball. Here are some of the known rules:

1) You aren't allowed to "use your arms when you knock the ball carrier down." Instead, you fold your arms across your chest and "butt the ball carrier". Elbowing is also prohibited. 

2) It's okay for the ball to bounce when you're passing it.

3) There are no teams. Everyone is each other's enemy. It's every man for himself. 

4) You get the ball when you knock someone else down. 

5) You can actually refuse a pass if you feel like it, because there are no teams and everyone is each other's enemy. The idea is that any team member can betray another at any time. If you get turned down three or more times as you are running across the playing field toward the river, then you have to go all the way back to "the tower" and begin again.