A Separate Peace by John Knowles

A Separate Peace book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download A Separate Peace Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter 2 Summary

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...

(The entire section is 640 words.)