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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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What is the "truth" that Gene is referring to about Phineas in Chapter 3 of "A Separate Peace"?

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Finny has just forthrightly and courageously declared that he considers Gene to be his "best pal".  Gene knows that at that point he should tell Finny that he is his best friend too, but something holds him back.  For Gene to say the expected words would not be the truth, because deep down inside, Gene is not sure about his feelings towards Finny.  He is not sure that he considers Finny to be his "best pal" in return.

Gene does everything that Finny tells him to do, even when he doesn't want to, and his own propensity to be such a follower really disturbs him.  Gene did not want to go to the beach because he had a big test to study for the next day, but because Finny suggested it, he went, even against his better judgement.  In his frustration, Gene has begun to question Finny's motives; perhaps he does not want Gene to do well in school.  He remembers that when Finny had steadied him on the tree branch over the river, he had "practically saved (his) life", yet upon thinking about it, he admits that if it hadn't been for Finny, he would not have been in such a dangerous situation in the first place.

Gene also struggles with a deep sense of jealousy towards Finny.  Finny is loved by all, students and teachers alike, and with his glibness manages to get away with seemingly anything.  Gene is resentful of Finny's charisma and angry at his own weakness in always subjecting himself to it.  The truth is, Gene is too confused and conflicted to be able to tell Finny that he is his best friend too (Chapter 3).

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