What orders does Gene take from Finny at the "decathlon"? How does he feel about it?A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Chapter 9 of A Separate Peace, Finny pulls Gene farther and farther away from the other boys who voices opinions on the war in the butt room:

Only Phineas failed to see what was so depressing.  Just as there was no war in his philosophy, there was also no dreary weather. 

So, he creates the Winter Carnival.  Like the Olympics, the Games must have fire.  Gene senses that he is acting as the Chorus, so he repeats the words, "Fire, fire."  Then, Gene calls out that Gene Forrester is going to run the decathlon. At this announcement, Gene narrates,

It wasn't cider which made me in this moment champion of everything he ordered, to run as though I were the abstraction of speed, to walk the half-circle of statue on my hands, to balance on my head on top of the icebox on top of the Prize Tale...--for on this day even the schoolboy egotism of Devon was conjured away--a wreath made from the evergreen trees which Phineas place on my head.  It wasn't the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concoted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.

 More than anything, Gene delights in the escapes from the grim reality around them that Phineas is able to create.  Indeed, like the oracles of old--the name Phineas means oracle--Finny says something will happen, and it does; his powers seem divine, infallible.  It is this ability of Phineas to create a world to close out the grim world that encroaches upon their youth that Gene holds in reverent and loving awe.

It is clear that when Gene returns to the Devon school, he returns to recapture whatever he can of this world created by Phineas that gave them such "a separate peace," a peace from that something inside man which was "something ignorant in the human heart," about which Gene learns after having fought in the war.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This section of the novel comes at the end of Chapter 9, as part of the Winter Carnival that Phinny has organised. There isn't a direct order that is given by Finny to Gene in this section, rather, Finny just declares what will happen:

"Now we are going to have thew Decathlon. Quiet everybody, our Olympic candidate Gene Forrester, is now going to qualify"...

Gene however does go on to comment:

...it wasn't cider which made me in this moment champion of everything he ordered, to run as though I were the abstraction of speed, to walk the half-circle of statues on my hands... it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace.

Thus although Gene is obviously ordered around to do the different events by Finny, he does not resent this. Rather he is intoxicated - not by the cider they have drunk, but by the feeling of freedom and peace that they have created thanks to Finny. This obviously ties in with a key theme of the novel - the innocence and naivety represented in Finny with his refusal to admit that a war is happening and his determination to create an "illusory, special and separate peace" through his actions.

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