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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace, why does Gene support Finny's disbelief in the war?

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Gene plays along with Finny's assertion that the war is not real because it helps him escape reality, just as it helps Finny escape his own reality. Throughout the novel, the war moves ever closer to Devon, and each of the novel's main characters deals with it in his own way. After Finny is injured, he denies the reality of the war, even while trying to find some branch of the military that will take him. Finny hates the idea that he will be left out and left behind.

Gene goes along with Finny, just as he always has. Gene has always deferred to Finny, first out of insecurity and later out of guilt. Gene is responsible for Finny's injury and lives with that guilt every day. By losing himself in Finny's illusions, Gene can avoid, at least temporarily, dealing with himself as well as the dangerous future each of the boys faces. Gene trains faithfully for the Winter Olympics of '44, keeping Finny's illusion alive.

It is Leper's emotional breakdown, however, that even Finny can't ignore. Finny gives up his efforts to push the war away:

When I heard that about Leper, then I knew that the war was real, this war and all the wars. If a war can drive somebody crazy, then it's real all right. Oh, I guess I always knew, but I didn't have to admit it.

It is only after Finny admits the reality of the war that Gene reluctantly gives up their mutual illusion:

I wish you hadn't found out. What did you have to find out for!

For a while, Gene had been able to escape from his own fear and guilt by living in the world that Finny had created for them, but illusion can be sustained for only so long. Gene regrets its loss.

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In A Separate Peace, why does Finny refuse to acknowledge that there really is a war?

Finny refuses to accept that there is a war because his injury prevents him from being able to participate. Of all characters, Finny would have been appropriately suited for war because of his athletic ability, however having his leg broken has created a long-term injury that will forever keep him from war. Externally, Finny doesn't let the other boys know that he has this feeling. Internally (readers later find out), Finny has been writing to different countries hoping for a way to be involved in the war.

Finny's denial demonstrates a truth of human nature. Those things we care about the most can consume us to the point that we will lie to ourselves or others.

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