What is Phineas's opinion of authority in A Separate Peace?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the novel, Finny is portrayed as a fun-loving, spontaneous adolescent, who is innocent and charismatic. With regards to authority, Gene mentions:

Phineas didn’t really dislike West Point in particular or authority in general, but just considered authority the necessary evil against which happiness was achieved by reaction, the backboard which returned all the insults he threw at it. (Knowles 6)

Essentially, Finny does not harbor negative feelings about authority and generally respects those in positions of power. However, he does not obey every minor rule or directive that he is given if he believes it is unnecessary or intervenes with his happiness. For example, Finny is continually late to dinner and does not hesitate to leave the campus in order to relax at the beach. In one of the more memorable scenes, Finny wears a pink shirt, which is against Devon's code of conduct, but manages to get away with it by charming the substitute Headmaster. In an attempt to define Finny's relationship with authority, Gene mentions:

The Devon faculty had never before experienced a student who combined a calm ignorance of the rules with a winning urge to be good . . . (Knowles 8)

Overall, it is safe to say that Finny generally respects authority but is willing to follow his own conscience and break rules that he finds unnecessary and/or irrelevant.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout the story, Finny demonstrates his adverse relationship with authority in general. While he tends to abide by the given rules in most "official" situations, when he is on his own or spending recreational time, his attitude and actions reflect his dislike of boundaries and structure.

Remember, Phineas is the one who instigates most of the hazardous adventures that he and the narrator enjoy. While Finny's life tends to be one without borders or confinement, he speaks of authority with a healthy degree of respect, at the same time. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

" Phineas didn't really dislike West Point, in particular, or authoriy in general, but just considered authority the necessary evil against which happiness was achieved by reaction, the backboard which returned all the insults he threw at it."  Phineas sort of thumbed his nose at authority.  He knew there were rules that had to be followed, but he also enjoyed walking on the edge between what was supposed to be done, and what he wanted to do.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial