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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Chapter 2 Summary

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As a consequence of having missed dinner, Gene and Finny are visited the next morning by Mr. Prud'homme, a substitute teacher for the summer. When questioned about their whereabouts the night before, Finny blithely explains, with "scatterbrained eloquence," that he and Gene had been swimming in the river, had engaged in a wrestling match, and had stopped to watch the sunset. His manner is so earnest and his excuses so preposterous that Mr. Prud'homme is won over despite himself. Even Finny's confession that they also "just had to jump out of that tree," an act which is more condemning than missing a meal, does not bring down upon the boys the punishment which they probably deserve. Gene is amazed at Finny's uncanny capability for getting away with things; the Devon faculty obviously has never had to deal with a student who combines so well "a calm ignorance of the rules with a winning urge to be good." Gene also notes, however, that he and his classmates, who at sixteen are too young to be drafted, are a symbol to the school establishment of "what peace (is) like," and as such, they are treated with indulgence.

Finny continues with his ingenuous shenanigans the next day, when the Upper Middlers attend a traditional term tea at the home of Mr. Patch-Withers and his wife. Finny goes dressed in a shocking pink shirt that no one else in the school could have worn without drawing scathing ridicule from his peers. Finny, however, wears it with aplomb, declaring it an emblem of his solidarity with the Allied forces. The atmosphere at the tea is awkward and strained, and Phineas alone talks easily, expounding on news of a bombing in Central Europe. In a conversation which is one-sided for the simple reason that no one else knows what he is talking about, Finny discusses the conditions surrounding the purported bombing, and in his fervor, unbuttons his jacket, revealing that instead of a belt, he has secured around his waist the Devon School tie. Mr. and Mrs. Patch-Withers are aghast at this sacrilege, but, with typical coolness, Finny explains that his use of the tie is also a sign of solidarity with the war effort, signifying that Devon too is loyal to the Allies. Gene, who is sure that Finny will not get away with his audacious behavior this time, is shocked and a little disappointed when Mr. Patch-Withers amazingly begins to laugh. Finny has successfully thwarted authority yet again. Gene is becoming increasingly confused about his feelings toward Finny. On one hand, he feels that Finny gets away with things because of the "extraordinary kind of person" he is. On the other hand, Finny's charisma and ability to manipulate situations in his favor time after time is causing Gene to feel inexplicably angry and resentful.

On the way back from the tea, Finny suggests jumping from the tree into the river again, steering Gene in that direction by leaning into him as they walk. As they cross the pristine campus, Gene reflects on its untouched beauty, wondering if its fairness is the reason that the war and bombings in Central Europe seem so far away and unreal. At the tree, Finny decides that he and Gene will jump together this time, "cement(ing) their partnership" and forming "The Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session," a club into which membership can only be attained by executing the dangerous leap from the tree. When both boys are standing on the tree limb, Gene finds to his horror that he is losing his balance, but Finny reaches out and grabs his arm, saving him from injury. Later, Gene is shaken by the full realization of the danger he had been in, reflecting that, but for Finny, he might have been killed. Finny had "practically saved (his) life."

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Chapter 1 Summary


Chapter 3 Summary