A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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What are the themes revealed in chapter 4 of A Separate Peace?

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It is in chapter 4 that Gene realizes just how competitive he truly is with Finny. After one of their escapades, Gene fails the first test he has ever failed. He re-commits himself to his studies, and the next time that Finney tries to get him to blow off his work, he says he would rather study for his test. Finny remarks that he probably secretly wants to be the valedictorian. Although Gene denies this, he realizes that he does, in fact, wish to be the class valedictorian and that this desire is in no small part due to his wishing that he could be better than Finny at something. Finny, while the school’s best athlete, is a terrible student. Finny says that if Gene does become valedictorian, then Finny will kill himself. Although he says it in a joking manner, Gene picks up on some truth to the statement, and for the first time he realizes that their friendship has a dimension that he has never seen before; they are each competitive with one another.

Once Gene has seen this competitive nature to their friendship, he begins to see ulterior motives in everything that Finny does. Every time Finny tries to distract Gene from his studies, Gene believes it is part of a dark plan to ensure that Finny remains on top. It isn’t until Finny says that he didn’t think Gene had to study to do so well in school that Gene realizes perhaps he was wrong. He goes with Finny to the jumping tree, where Finny suggests a double jump. This is when the combination of Gene’s insecurities and paranoid thoughts about Finny's behavior occurs; Gene bounces the branch that Finny is out on, and Finny takes the fall that will ruin his life.

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