A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace, why does Brinker believe Gene has put off enlisting?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Brinker confronts Gene about why he has put off enlisting in World War II, even though many of his classmates have, albeit at the same time getting themselves into programs that will insulate them from danger. Brinker accuses Gene of not enlisting because he feels sorry for Phineas, knowing that Finny can no longer enlist. Brinker tells Gene that trying to protect Finny by not enlisting and by treating him with pity is only going to hurt Finny in the end.

Brinker's suspicion is that Gene had something to do with Finny's accident. Brinker says:

And don’t forget,” he [Brinker] looked at me sharply, “you’ve got a little personal stake in this. What I mean is it wouldn’t do you any harm, you know, if everything about Finny’s accident was cleared up and forgotten.”

It seems that Gene's unwillingness to enlist is causing Brinker to think more about the circumstances surrounding Finny's accident, and what Gene might have had to do with them. This leads directly to Brinker's decision to stage the mock "trial" investigating what happened.

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stolperia eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ever the eager organizer, Brinker first suggests that he and Gene should enlist before Finny returns to Devon. That plan ends when Finny reappears on campus; life is changed, but the isolation from the war brought about by the school environment and by Finny's refusal to believe in the war allows Gene to gracefully avoid the whole topic.

Brinker assumes Gene is avoiding enlisting in some branch of the military because he feels sorry for Finny, who is ineligible for the military due to his injury.

You've been putting off enlisting in something for only one reason," he said at once. "You know that, don't you?" "No, I don't know that." "Well, I know, and I'll tell you what it is. It's Finny. You pity him."

Brinker goes on to express his belief that Finny is going to begin to pity himself if his friends and classmates don't stop "beating around the bush" about his condition. Gene refuses to accept, or even consider, Brinker's position, but also refuses to be drawn into any further consideration of enlisting at that time.

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