In A Separate Peace, what is going on in Gene's head in chapter 3's flashback?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 3, Gene subtly portrays many of his true feelings toward Finny.  The chapter picks up right after Finny "saves" Gene's life.  But Gene is not all that grateful because he realizes that there would have been no need for Finny to save him if he hadn't lured Gene up into the tree in the first place.  This admission at the beginning of the chapter sets the stage for Gene running through a list of physical and social activities that Finny handles with skill and charm (Blitzball, swimming, talking to professors, etc.). Throughout this description of Finny's talents, Gene begrudgingly praises his roommate but realizes more thoroughly his own inadequacies.

Abruptly, in the middle of the chapter, Gene mentions that every person has a defining moment in life, one that his life flashes back to often.  Gene says,

"For me this moment--four years is a moment in history--was the war. The war was and is a reality for me.  I still live and think in its atmosphere" (40).

Even though Gene follows this statement with a lengthy description of every day activities affected by the war, Knowles purposely does not capitalize war.  The word is meant to have a figurative meaning, and that is why Gene flashes back to this in Chapter 3.  The war that he is really talking about is the war within himself.  He knows that he should like Finny and return true friendship, but his insecurity and unhappiness with who he is are warring inside him, and he doesn't know which side to take.  This inner war affects everything that Gene says and does in the flashback portions of the book.

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A Separate Peace

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