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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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Chapter 8 Summary

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When Gene enters the room, Phineas comments immediately on his grungy attire, and Gene tells him that he has been shoveling snow on the railroad. Reaching for a pair of crutches, Finny "vault(s)" across the room to his cot and complains when he sees it is not made up. Gene, a little irritated at his roommate's attitude, reminds him that there are no maids because there is a war on. Gene makes the bed up for Finny and falls asleep while Finny, as is his habit, is still talking. In the morning, Finny demands to hear once again why there are no maids. Brinker Hadley bounds into the room, enthusiastically asking Gene if he is ready to sign up before he notices that Finny is back. After greeting Finny, Brinker "curl(s) his lip" at Gene, making a snide remark to the effect that Gene's plot to do away with his roommate did not work after all. Finny asks Gene what Brinker is talking about, and Gene's answer addresses Brinker's first comment, which is safer than bringing up the "catastrophic joke" about the nefarious plot Gene had allegedly sought to undertake against Finny. Gene tells Finny that Brinker wants to know if he, Gene, will enlist in the war that day. Finny, looking uncharacteristically troubled, asks quietly when Gene plans to leave. Gene comes to the amazing realization that Phineas needs him and does not want him to go. Gene's fervor to enlist is wiped away immediately by this sudden awareness, and he dismisses the idea as "nutty," bringing a "wide and dazzled smile" to Phineas's face.

For Gene, "peace (has) come back to Devon" with Finny's return. Gene notes that the environment at the school is "a nest of traps" for someone with Finny's disability. Outdoors, there are icy patches everywhere, and in the buildings themselves, the floors and stairs are made of "smooth, slick marble, more treacherous even than the icy walks." Finny, who had always been blessed with exceptional balance and grace, now "hobble(s)" among the the patches of ice on the grounds. Instead of attending school on his first day back, Finny wants to go to the gym and prevails upon Gene to ditch class with him. As the two sit in the familiar environs of the locker room, Finny commands Gene to do a few dozen chin ups on a bar, telling him that it is Gene who is going to have to be "the big star now." He asks Gene why he has not signed up for a sport, and Gene replies that "sports don't seem so important with the war on." Unexpectedly, Finny reacts vehemently, demanding, "Have you really swallowed all that war stuff?" To Gene's astonishment, Finny asserts that "there isn't any war," insisting that all the hype is nothing more than a deception created by an anonymous group of "fat old men" to keep the younger generation occupied so that they will stay out of trouble and not crowd their elders out of jobs. Gene is concerned at Finny's earnestness in describing his inventive opinion of the world, and asks him why Finny should be the only one to understand the alleged truth while everyone else remains in the dark. Finny bursts out with the response, "Because I've suffered." Both Gene and Finny are stunned by this naked admission of Finny's bitterness. After a long moment of uncomfortable silence, Gene, not knowing what else to do, goes over to attempt the chin ups Finny had instructed him to do on the bar. When he is done, Finny confesses that he had once aspired to be in the Olympics and says that since he will no longer...

(This entire section contains 792 words.)

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be able to do that, Gene will have to do it in his stead.

Although Gene does not for a moment believe Finny's version of world, Finny is so compelling in acting out his fantasy that Gene sometimes forgets that there is a war going on. The boys go out at six every morning so that Gene can train. One morning, when Gene makes a significant breakthrough in his running endurance, Finny becomes withdrawn, seeming "older...smaller too." As they return to their dormitory, they run into Mr. Ludsbury, who asks them what they have been doing, and Finny "matter-of-factly" tells him that he is training Gene for the 1944 Olympics. Mr. Ludsbury commends them for their dedication, but adds that they need to keep the focus of their endeavors on the war effort at all times. Uncharacteristically, Finny flatly responds, "No" to the admonition, and Mr. Ludsbury, not used to being defied, leaves precipitiously. When he is gone, Finny muses, "in simple wonder," that Mr. Ludsbury really believes that there is a war going on.


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