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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Chapter 3 Summary

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Finny had practically saved Gene's life by keeping him from falling from the tree, but he had practically lost it for him too, because Gene would never have been up in the tree in the first place but for Finny's influence. The Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session is an instant success, with friends of Gene and Finny signing up to be "trainees." Finny decrees that the Society should meet every night, and that he and Gene should open each meeting by jumping from the tree. Gene, though he abhors the ritual, never considers not jumping, because he does not want to lose face with Phineas.

Finny, who loves sports, is quite disgusted with the athletic program in the summer, which consists of "a little tennis, some swimming, clumsy softball games, (and) badminton" for the underclassmen; the seniors, of course, engage in calisthenics and other activities which will prepare them to fight in the war. As he and Gene walk across the fields one afternoon, Finny spots a medicine ball someone has left behind and, with the group of Upper Middlers who are gathered around, creates a game which he dubs "blitzball," making up the rules as the group plays along. In blitzball, there are no teams; everyone is the enemy. The game, which requires limitless energy and calculated, unexpected maneuvers, showcases Phineas's athletic strengths perfectly and is "the surprise of the summer; everyone play(s) it." Gene believes that a form of the game endures at Devon to the present day.

In the summer of 1942, the war overshadows everything. Gene remembers the war as the defining event of his life; all his future perceptions are colored by it, and it is the "moment in history...(which) imprint(s) itself upon him...forever." During these summer days, however, the Upper Middlers, still for the most part only sixteen years old, enjoy a respite from the drab reality of the world, and Finny achieves "certain feats as an athlete," to the knowledge of only himself and Gene. In his carefree, nonchalant manner, Finny one day notices that the school swimming record is held by a student named A. Hopkins Parker, and decides on a whim to try and beat it. With only Gene as a witness, Finny, without ever practicing, beats Parker's record by a fraction of a second, but when Gene excitedly insists that Finny should perform his feat again in front of the coach and a qualified timekeeper to make it official, Finny vehemently demurs, saying that he had only done it to see if he could, and swearing Gene to secrecy.

The next day, Phineas impetuously decides that he and Gene should go on an outing to the beach, which is strictly against regulations and would require a bicycle trip of several hours. Gene, who has an important test the next day for which to study, has no desire to go, but once again capitulates to Finny's urging, in spite of himself. In high spirits, Finny does everything he can to entertain Gene on the trip, telling wild stories about his childhood, singing, and generally clowning around. Once the boys reach the shoreline, they spend time in the water, have dinner at a hot dog stand, and walk along the Boardwalk before settling down for the night on the dunes. In a moment of quiet earnestness, Finny tells Gene that he is his "best pal," a courageous admission in a culture where the expression of true emotion is not accepted. Gene thinks he should reciprocate and tell Finny that he is his best friend too, but something holds him back; perhaps it is the unconscious realization that to do so would not be telling the truth.

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