In A Separate Peace, what is the significance of Finny's theory about the war? Does its truth matter to Finny or Gene?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Finny, ever imaginative and creative, comes up with "the truth" about the war, sharing it with Gene. According to Finny, World War II does not really exist. He explains that it is a plot by the "fat old men" to acquire the best of American goods and services for themselves at everyone else's expense. Since there is no war, Finny logically concludes, the Olympics of 1944 will, in fact, take place; since he cannot begin training, Gene must train in his place, beginning at once. And so the training begins.

Gene and Finny know very well that the war is real. Finny's version of the truth represents another form of the denial he practices to protect himself from unbearable truths. Gene chooses to live in Finny's illusion rather than challenge it. It is, after all, a relief from reality.

Gene learns eventually that while dragging his cast through the long weeks and months at Devon, Finny had been writing to every branch of military service he could think of, both foreign and domestic, trying to find a place where he could participate in the war. Finny could not stand the idea of being left out and left alone when his friends went away. In the novel's conclusion, Gene explains this gift of denial that Finny possessed:

During the time I was with him, Phineas created an atmosphere in which I continued now to live, a way of sizing up the world with erratic and entirely personal reservations, letting its rocklike facts sift through and be accepted only a little at a time, only as much as he could assimilate without a sense of chaos and loss.

Just as he finally faces Gene's betrayal, Finny accepts the reality of the war only when he can no longer evade it.





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A Separate Peace

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