A Separate Peace Questions and Answers
by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace, what was Finny's relationship with his teachers, and what does the teachers' attitude toward Finny suggest about his personality?

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Phineas is an extrovert, a charmer, and an entertainer, but he is also respectful to authority figures. In chapter 2, it is summer semester and Gene and Finny had missed dinner because they had to jump out of the tree into the river. When Phineas explains the fact that they just had to jump out of that tree to Mr. Prud'homme, his charm wins over the teacher. Gene witnesses Finny's charm work its magic as follows:

"He pressed his advantage because he saw that Mr. Prud'homme was pleased, won over in spite of himself . . . if Phineas pressed hard enough. . . there might be a flow of simple, unregulated friendliness between them, and such flows were one of Finny's reason for living" (22).

Phineas is such a smooth talker that the teachers know what he is doing, but on the other hand, he does it so well that it is entertaining. In addition, it is summer semester and the teachers are a little bit more relaxed in the summer.

Gene notices that Phineas has this same effect on other teachers, not just Mr. Prud'homme. Gene claims that the Devon faculty had never experienced such a charismatic and respectful boy. They also seemed to think that Phineas "combined a calm ignorance of the rules with a winning urge to be good" (23). That summer, Gene says, the faculty seemed to let loose on holding Phineas to rules, so they let up on the rest of the boys. The teachers' leniency might also have been the result of the fact that most of these boys faced going to war within a year. In fact, Finny points that fact out to Mr. Prud'homme as well. How can teachers be too strict with boys who will soon be defending their freedom, and even sacrificing their lives for it?

Overall, though, Phineas's personality is that of a winner. He's positive, respectful, and loves life. His personality must not only have been addictive, but at times inspiring for those teachers to witness.

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Finny's charismatic personality and complete enthusiasm for everything he does affects his relationship with his instructors as well as with his classmates. While he is not a scholar in the academic sense, Finny's teachers do not demand more of him - he is not pressured to produce more in the classroom because the teachers all are under the spell of his personality and are willing to allow him the freedom they feel he deserves as they see the involvement in the war looming ever closer for all their students. Finny sees most of the instructors as being somewhat out of touch with the rapidly evolving events in the world but is willing to humor them and is respectful, at least when they are present.

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