Gene Forrester is the protagonist in A Separate Peace. He is also the narrator of the story, telling what happened at Devon in 1942 from his own unique point of view. As a teenager and a student, most of Gene's difficulties center on typical coming-of-age problems like fitting in and following the rules, but Gene also struggles to find his own identity among a school full of boys.
One challenge to Gene's pursuit of establishing his own sense of self is his good friend, Finny. Finny represents everything that Gene admires and wants for himself; Finny is charming, athletic, a natural leader, and popular. In the novel, Gene's admiration for Finny deepens to jealousy and eventual hatred due to Gene's own insecurities and fear. After Finny's 'accident,' Gene attempts to absolve his feelings of guilt by adopting Finny's personality to fill the void that Finny has left behind:
"I spent as much time as I could alone in our room, trying to empty my mind of every thought, to forget where I was, even who I was. […] I decided to put on his clothes" (Ch. 5).
Gene admits to himself that "his actions [of trying on Phineas' clothes] gave me such relief" that he would "never have to stumble through the confusions of my own character again" (Ch. 5).
Gene remains an extremely conflicted character throughout A Separate Peace; his internal struggle to define his identity and separate himself from Finny is a major conflict throughout much of the novel.
He is not sensitive like Leper, who can't take the violence in the war. Gene narrates the story, meaning that he has fought for quite some time now, and the massive destruction and violence doesn't seem to bother him. Therefore, he is emotionless and insensitive.
Gene Forrester, the protagonist, has been characterized as a secretive young boy who is incapable of loving. He seems to be emotionless. His name "Gene" suggests that he takes on people's traits. For example, he takes away the sports and popularity from Finny.
His secretive nature is suggested by his last name, "Forrester", associating with a forest— something to camouflage in, or hide in.