A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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Chapter 11 Summary

After his disturbing encounter with Leper, Gene wants only to see Phineas, who has managed to create for himself a world without conflict. When he gets back to Devon, he finds Finny in the midst of a raucous snowball fight, frolicking in the farthest northern reaches of the campus with a group of classmates, "the cream of the school, the lights and leaders of the senior class." Gene, not wanting to be questioned about Leper, tries to escape discreetly, but he is quickly initiated into the game by a snowball thrown at his head by Phineas. The fight deteriorates into hilarious confusion as, following Finny's lead, all loyalties are abandoned. As the teams disintegrate, the fight ends "in the only way possible": everyone gangs up on Phineas, who goes down smiling beneath a "blizzard of snowballs."

Later, it occurs to Gene to ask Finny if he should not be more cautious because of his leg, which is still encased in a small cast. Finny concedes that Dr. Stanpole has cautioned him not to fall again, but feels that his bone has healed and is even stronger now than it was before. After dinner, Brinker comes to Gene and Finny's room, and asks how Leper is doing. Gene candidly tells him that Leper has deserted, and Brinker instinctively understands that Leper has cracked under the pressures of military life. When Gene affirms that Brinker is correct, Brinker laments that someone should have realized that Leper was not cut out to be in the army. He notes the irony that the senior class of 1943 has "two men sidelined for the Duration" already, before they have even gotten the chance to fight in the war. When Gene asks Brinker who the second sidelined man is, Brinker indicates Finny, and Gene, mindful of his roommate's feelings, tries heartily to downplay the seriousness of his condition, bringing up Finny's carefully constructed rationale that the war is an illusion anyway. For the first time, however, Phineas does not play along; instead, with a tone of quiet irony, he brings to a close "all his special inventions which had carried (them) through the winter." The war is real, and no one will henceforth be able to pretend otherwise.

As spring arrives, there is very little left at Devon which is not directly connected to the war. Recruiters arrive daily, trying to interest the seniors in one of the many branches of service, but now that their time of involvement in the war is rapidly approaching, the boys are no longer in a rush to join the fighting. Gene himself takes no action; he does not feel free to but does not understand why this is so. One morning, Brinker accuses Gene of putting off enlisting because he pities Finny, a charge which Gene vehemently denies. Brinker, however, insists that Finny needs to accept the fact that he is crippled, and that for his sake, they all need to act "perfectly natural" about it. Then, insinuating that Gene has a "personal stake" in finding out the truth, Brinker suggests that there are a lot of unanswered questions about Finny's accident, and that the sooner that these questions are brought out in the open and resolved, the better it will be for everyone. Later that day, while they are studying in their dorm room, Finny tells Gene that he at first doubted what Gene had said about Leper, because to accept it would mean that the war is real after all, something which he has not wanted to admit. Finny knows that Gene is telling the truth, however, because he has seen Leper himself, skulking in the shrubbery near the chaplain's office. When Finny accedes to the fact that the war is real, Gene wistfully tells him that he liked Finny's version of reality better.

Late that night, Brinker and "three cohorts" barge into Gene...

(The entire section is 975 words.)