What is Phineas's favorite quote in A Separate Peace by John Knowles?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 12 of A Separate Peace, Gene remarks,  

Everybody had something, some word, some phrase that they were always saying.

At this point in the novel, Gene's thought is not appropriate to the situation in which Phineas has just fallen down the marble steps of the Assembly Building,  However, it comes to Gene because he overhears Phil Latham, the wrestling coach, telling Finny to give the bone in his leg "the old college try," a favorite expression of his.  Thus it is that Gene is reminded of Finny's favorite phrase, as well.  He imagines Finny in the Latham's room listening as Dr. Stanpole  and Miss Windbag, who is "gasping out something or other all the time," along with Coach Latham who tells Finny to "Give 'er the old college try, Finny."  Gene nearly laughs as he thinks Finny is probably using his own favorite, which is in Latin:

Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres. [Gaul is divided into three parts.]

This is the opening line of Julius Caesar's famous Commentaries on the Gallic Wars, a work which has been translated by many a Latin student over the years.  Because Mr. Latham is not so intelligent and educated, Gene further imagines the coach's perplexed look, and wonders at how outrageous it would be if Finny told the coach "you're a boob." This thought and another about Miss Windbag cause Gene to laugh uncotrollably.  His inappropriate outburst leads to the rising of tears running down his face, tears, however, that are not from laughter.



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A Separate Peace

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