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

A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

Start Free Trial

In chapter 5 of A Separate Peace, does Gene desire to be like Finny?

Expert Answers

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

Gene is envious of the concern the masters at school have for Finny when Finny is laid up in the infirmary with his broken leg. He notes

it was as though they felt it was especially unfair that it should strike one of the sixteen year-olds, one of the few young men who could be free and happy in the summer of 1942.

It is as if Gene even envies Finny when he is suffering; he is unable to transcend his own need for recognition to fully comprehend the suffering of Finny. It is plausible that the discomfort Gene feels when the master compels him to visit Finny is, in part, because he is jealous of the concern the teacher has for a boy who is so popular and well-liked.

While Finny is in the infirmary, Gene dresses in Finny's clothes. In them, he says

it seemed, standing there in Finny’s triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again.

Gene has not yet developed his own distinct identity, and he is relieved to be able to borrow one from a boy he both admires and envies. The best Gene is able to do is to try to convince the boys at school that he is a southern aristocrat so that he can be in their league, socially speaking. Hanging pictures of a plantation on the wall in his room at school is yet another way he tries to borrow an identity instead of cultivating one of his own. He is unable to express himself in a way that he can truly own and be proud of, even though he has many admirable qualities of his own. Gene is an archetype of the fish-out-of-water narrative. His struggle is granted pathos by his action of causing Finny's fall and then feeling deep shame for it.

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