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

A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

Start Free Trial

Contrast Brinker's and Finny's personalities in relation to the winter and summer sessions.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Finny is portrayed as a carefree, spontaneous adolescent, who is by far the most charismatic boy in his class. Finny's fun, cheerful attitude corresponds to the lighthearted, exciting summer session at Devon, when the boys engage in athletic events, create secret societies, and enjoy the carefree atmosphere of the school. During the summer session, many of the teachers are gone, the workload is reduced, and the atmosphere is relaxed. Symbolically, the summer session and Finny both represent the carefree early stages of adolescence, before responsibilities and adulthood begin to dramatically influence the boys' lives.

Brinker Hadley is Finny's foil throughout the novel and is depicted as a conservative, stolid adolescent, who takes education and life seriously. Unlike Finny, Brinker is a responsible boy and initially attempts to influence his peers into enlisting in various branches of the military. Brinker symbolically represents the winter session, which is when the headmaster returns and order is restored at Devon. The winter session puts a damper on the fun, carefree atmosphere that Finny helped cultivate during the summer session, as the boys return to their classes and their regimented daily routines.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

We might describe the characters of Brinker, Finny and Gene as being parallel to the classic Freudian theory of the Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego. 

Finny is most like the Id, driven by impulse, defined by his spirit. He is a figure of inspiration, capable of getting away with almost anything because, in part, he feels little guilt in following his whims. These qualities match the free-wheeling summer session where the rules were loosely enforced and self-exploration was a central concern.

Brinker is most like the Super-Ego, defined by his conscious choices. He is fully socialized and has an air of sophistication. He not only follows the rules, Brinker also helps to enforce those rules and even create some via the committees he heads. Brinker's character is expressive of the winter school session, where the rules were brought back in full force and preparation for the impending future. 

Gene then is most like the Ego, navigating and monitoring the impulses from these opposite directions, choosing which to hear, which to heed, and which side best defines him. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial