A Separate Peace Questions and Answers
by John Knowles

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At what moment does Gene betray Finny? A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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In Chapter 3 of A Separate Peace, Finny persuades Gene to jump from the tree; when Gene loses his balance, Finny's hand quickly shoots out and he grabs Gene's arm, saving him from falling.  Later, Finny persuades Gene to ride their bicycles to the beach.  There they swim in the ocean, but the waves are too strong for them and they are knocked around.  Yet, Finny enjoys himself, even convincing a bartender to give them beers by displaying some forged draft cards.  That night Finny tells Gene,

"...after all you can't come to the shore with just anybody and you can't come by yourself, and at this teen-age period in life the proper person is your best pal."

This show of emotion "nakedly" stops Gene from telling Finny the same thing.  Then, the next morning, Finny declares that he has a great rest.  With renewed energy, Finny tells Gene, "You never waste your time.  That's why I have to do it for you."  Gene feels that Finny tries to prevent him from studying so that he will not be better in academics than Finny:

He minded, despised the possibility that I might be the head of the school.  There was a swift chain of explosions in my brain, one certainty after another blasted--up like a detonation went the idea of any best friend, up went affection and partnership and sticking by someone and relying of someone...in this world--whom I could trust.

...i found a single sustaining thought....You and Phineas are even already.  You are even in enmity.

Feeling that Finny has deliberately set out to wreck his studies, Gene is further angered when Finny announces that Leper will jump from the tree and they must attend.  When Gene objects because he needs to study, Finny tells him to stay, but Gene misinterprets Finny's motives and insists upon coming.  However, as they walk, Gene begins to understand that there is no rivalry between them because he himself "was not of the same quality as he [Finny]."  Gene becomes jealous of Finny.

Once at the tree, Finny suggests that he and Gene do a double jump. They climb the tree and walk out onto the limb. As Gene takes a step Gene's  "knees bent and [he] jounced the limb." Finny falls with a "sickening, unnatural thud."  Then Gene describes himself,

With unthinking sureness I moved out on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of my fear of this forgotten.

Clearly, Gene has betrayed Finny.  He has betrayed his belief in Finny's friendship, his admiration of Finny, and, most of all, his respect for Finny.  Gene becomes bitter from a false sense of betrayal to himself, then acts cruelly from a petty sense of inferiority to Finny.

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mjesatko | Student

When Gene jounces the tree limb.