In A Separate Peace, why does Gene jump from the tree? Does this show Gene to be strong or weak?  

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Gene is uncertain, at the time, why he jumps from the tree. He asks himself why he lets Finny talk him into these things—they're dangerous, and he doesn't enjoy them. Finny says he has to "shame" Gene into taking risks.

It is clear, however, that the real reason Gene jumps...

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Gene is uncertain, at the time, why he jumps from the tree. He asks himself why he lets Finny talk him into these things—they're dangerous, and he doesn't enjoy them. Finny says he has to "shame" Gene into taking risks.

It is clear, however, that the real reason Gene jumps is because he feels competitive with Finny. He wants to keep up with his friend and prove he can be his equal. He is rewarded for his risk, because none of the other boys will take the leap into the water. After Gene's jump, the scene plays out as follows:

"It’s you, pal,” Finny said to me at last, “just you and me.” He and I started back across the fields, preceding the others like two seigneurs.

We were the best of friends at that moment.

While Gene is competitive with Finny, Finny is also competitive with Gene. Both young men have a drive to be the best at what they do.

To my mind, Gene shows weakness in jumping from the tree limb. He is not as athletic as Finny, meaning that it is a bigger risk for him, and he is letting Finny set the agenda and call the shots. He is insecure enough to do this foolish thing to try to impress his friend.

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Gene jumps from the tree because he is challenged by Phinny and he could not think of letting Phinny down.  To jump from that height shows a type of courage, I don't care what the motivation.  However, the idea that he could not stand up to Phinny and say, "no, I don't want to jump," demonstrates a weakness in Gene's character.  He doesn't really have the desire to jump, but he can't seem to say no to anything Phinny wants him to do, so he jumps.

"Gene as an adult recalls himself at sixteen: a lonely intellectual with the tendency of analyzing his and everyone else's motives. At various times in the novel, he is highly competitive, selfish, insecure, and combative. On other occasions, he is courageous, mature, and dependable."

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