A Separate Peace by John Knowles

A Separate Peace book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What quotes show that Gene in A Separate Peace is competitive, insecure, or jealous?

Expert Answers info

Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2015

write9,045 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

At the end of chapter 3, Finny tells Gene that he is his best friend after a fun, exhilarating day at the beach. Instead of responding to Finny's comment, Gene thinks to himself,

I should have told him then that he was my best friend also and rounded off what he had said. I started to; I nearly did. But something held me back. Perhaps I was stopped by that level of feeling, deeper than thought, which contains the truth (Knowles, 21).

Gene's overwhelming feelings of insecurity, competition, and jealousy prevent him from admitting that he is close friends with Finny. By not reciprocating, Gene displays his true feelings towards Finny.

In chapter 4, Gene admits to Finny that he has to work extremely hard to get good grades. This astonishes Finny, who has never had to work hard at anything in his life. Gene is insecure and believes that he would be "even" with Finny if he were the highest ranking student in the school. When Gene asks Finny if he would mind if he received that award, Finny sarcastically says, "I’d kill myself out of jealous envy" (Knowles, 24). At that moment, Gene develops feelings of enmity toward Finny because he believes that Finny is his competition. Gene completely misinterprets Finny's comment, and his insecure feelings are replaced by jealous hostility toward his friend. Gene says,

I found a single sustaining thought. The thought was, You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity. You are both coldly driving ahead for yourselves alone. You did hate him for breaking that school swimming record, but so what? He hated you for getting an A in every course but one last term. You would have had an A in that one except for him. Except for him (Knowles, 24).

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

stolperia eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write2,948 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

There are many quotes that illustrate Gene's characteristics of competitiveness, insecurity, or jealousy. Indeed, a major aspect of the story is the war Gene sporadically conducts against himself, Finny, or others at Devon School.

Consider the Upper Middle Class term tea. As Finny, Gene, Mr. Patch-Withers, and Mrs. Patch-Withers are discussing the actions of the Germans, Finny unbuttons his sportcoat so as to have freedom of movement for larger gestures. The coat falls open and exposes Finny's belt, his school tie with Devon's crest and colors. Gene finds himself looking forward to observing Finny's punishment for this misstep, then being jealous when no punishment is given.

This time he wasn't going to get away with it. I could feel myself becoming unexpectedly excited at that...Phineas was going to get away with even this...He had gotten away with everything. I felt a sudden stab of disappointment. That was because I just wanted to see some more excitement; that must have been it.

The study scene in their dorm room displayed all the traits you ask about. Gene realizes he wants to achieve scholastic recognition to compare with Finny's athletic honors; Gene is too insecure to conceive of a friendship with someone by whom he feels (at that moment) betrayed; and Gene is jealous that Finny's sports achievements come so easily, while Gene has to study and work for his good grades.

"Somebody's got to be the head of the class."...He had won and been proud to win the Galbraith Football Trophy and the Contact Sport Award...If I was head of the class on Graduation Day and made a speech and won the Ne Plus Ultra Scholastic Achievement Citation, then we would both have come out on top we would be even, that was all..."You wouldn't...mind if I wound up head of the class, would you?"..."I'd kill myself out of jealous envy." I believed him...My brain exploded. He minded, despised the possibility that I might be head of the school.


check Approved by eNotes Editorial