Illustration of two pairs of legs standing on the branch of a large tree

A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Chapter 4 Summary

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When Gene awakens on the beach the next morning, he realizes that his trigonometry test is going to begin in just a few hours. Finny, however, calculates that there is time for a short swim before leaving, so the boys arrive back at Devon just in time for Gene's test, which he fails. In the afternoon, Finny arranges for the group to play a game of blitzball, and right after dinner, there is a meeting of the Super Suicide Society. That night, as Gene tries desperately to catch up on the work in which he has been falling behind, Finny asks him why he always works so hard, commenting that he must be vying to graduate at the head of the class so that he will be able to make a speech on Graduation Day. Finny's words bring Gene to the stunning realization that his friend is trying to sabotage his efforts to get good grades, in a twisted scheme to come out on top in their rivalry. In trying to understand Finny's motivation, Gene notes that Phineas is a poor student, but he is "without question the best athlete" in the school. Gene, on the other hand, is an excellent student and a pretty fair athlete as well. If Gene should graduate at the top of the class, he will have won the competition between the two of them, something Finny is obviously trying to prevent. Feeling completely betrayed, Gene vows to keep up his guard against Finny's perceived duplicity, but as the summer wanes, his feelings of animosity start to fade, and he begins to forget "whom (he) hate(s) and who hate(s) (him)."

Gene continues to attend the meetings of the Super Suicide Society and executes the nightly jumps from the tree, demonstrating his own competitiveness. During finals, Gene is studying for a French examination when Finny, with typical exuberance, announces that an especially important meeting of the Society will be held that evening because Leper Lepellier has promised to jump from the tree for the very first time. Gene, who does not for a minute believe that Leper will follow through, thinks that Finny has put Leper up to it for the express purpose of "finish(ing) (Gene) for good on the exam," and he reacts with anger and frustration. He is astonished, however, when Finny, with complete candidness, expresses surprise that Gene actually has to study. Finny had believed that, just as athletics come naturally to himself, good grades come effortlessly to Gene. When he realizes the truth, Phineas is adamant that Gene should stay and study, but Gene, completely confused now, and ashamed of his own disloyalty in misjudging his friend, insists on going to the meeting, telling Finny that he has done enough work on his French already after all. At the tree, Finny suggests that he and Gene will do something especially daring; they will make the dangerous jump off the limb in tandem. Finny ventures out on the branch first, and as Gene stands behind him near the tree trunk, Gene's knees inexplicably bend and he jounces the limb, sending Finny plummeting straight down onto the bank below.

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