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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Chapter 5 Summary

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There is no news about Finny from the infirmary during the following few days, other than the information that one of his legs has been "shattered." Finny's injury has a significant effect on the masters, who seem to feel that it is somehow unfair that a sixteen-year-old, one of the few boys who do not yet have to suffer because of the war, should be struck down in such a manner. Burdened with the knowledge that he had caused the accident, Gene is overcome with guilt, but surprisingly, no one appears to suspect his role in what had happened. One morning, Dr. Stanpole accosts Gene, telling him that Finny is better and "could stand a visitor or two." Dr. Stanpole says that although Finny has endured a "messy break" and will hereafter be unable to participate in sports, he will most certainly, at least, walk again. Unable to fathom the reality that Finny's life will be forever altered by the accident, Gene, crushed with remorse, breaks down and cries, but Dr. Stanpole, telling him that Finny has asked to see him specifically, admonishes him to be cheerful and strong for his friend's sake. Gene goes with the doctor to the infirmary, fully expecting Finny to accuse him of causing the accident.

Gene finds Phineas lying among pillows and sheets, physically diminished and pale, and drugged, his eyes "clouded and visionary." He is actually in amazingly good spirits, but Gene, tormented, babbles instinctively about the accident, never quite acknowledging his guilt, but asking Finny instead, "What happened there at the tree?" Finny responds vaguely that he remembers only that "something jiggled," and he "just fell." He recalls seeing an "awfully funny expression" on Gene's face and reaching out momentarily to him for help, but to no avail. For an awful moment, Finny mentions a feeling he had, that Gene had jostled the branch, but in thinking out loud to himself, he concludes that his feeling makes no sense, and apologizes for even thinking that Gene might have wanted to hurt him. Gene, realizing that Finny would have told the truth if their positions had been switched, tries to work up the courage to confess his guilt, but Dr. Stanpole comes in at that moment. Gene is sent away and thereafter receives the news that Finny has been taken back to his home outside of Boston.

The Summer Session ends, and Gene returns to his hometown for a short vacation. At the end of September he starts back to Devon, but on the way, he catches a taxi and stops by at Finny's house. This abode, located on a street bordered by ancient elms, "looks surprisingly proper and elegant" to Gene. A cleaning woman answers the door, and Gene finds Finny sitting "propped by white hospital-looking pillows in a big armchair." Finny has the appearance of "an invalid, house-bound," but he is not at all surprised that his friend has come to visit. After engaging in some small talk, "pals trading stories," Gene finally admits to Finny straight out that he had caused the accident. Finny reacts with disbelief and becomes very agitated, unable to accept the enormity of the idea that his friend harbors such a virulent hatred against him, and it occurs to Gene that he is hurting Finny again by forcing the truth upon him, inflicting "an even deeper injury that what (he) had done before." Gene begins to doubt himself and tries to disown what he has said, saying that he is tired and is "not making too much sense." Finny says that he will be back in school by Thanksgiving, and Gene leaves him, still mired in a web of falsehoods.

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