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A Separate Peace

by John Knowles

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In A Separate Peace, what understanding do Finny and Gene reach about the tree incident?

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Finny pretty much concludes that Gene probably is responsible for knocking him out of the tree. Even if Gene did it accidentally, it is understood between the both of them that Gene may have had subconsciously wanted to do it and this helped push him over the edge. They treat it as a moment of weakness.

You might find it unsatisfying because it would seem more logical for Finny to just turn his back completely (and immediately) on Gene and that Gene would be more remorseful at first and a little more forthright and honest about from the time of the incident until the end of the novel. But feelings are involved and they are both adolescents which can be an awkward and confusing time. Finny is still clinging to the innocence of his youth (he continually jokes that the war is a big joke and has always been the one to make school life more imaginative and fun – some critics say the “separate peace” is this youthful atmosphere that Finny creates all around him – separate from the rest of the world and the war). Gene is not clinging to his youth as much but is still trying to figure out who he is. Plus, Gene’s relationship with Finny has always been conflicted with feelings of envy, anger, and love. It’s as if Finny represents Gene’s youth and innocence. Gene’s conflict is that he wants to cling to this but wants/needs to abandon it. So, both of them never really make complete sense of it because of all these conflicting feelings. They seem to just accept that it happened and that such things just happen when kids play rough or when feelings are involved; as inevitable as growing up.

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In A Separate Peace, what understanding do Finny and Gene reach about the accident in the tree?

What happened in the tree was no accident. Gene "jounced" the limb, causing Finny to lose his balance, fall, and break his leg. He did not plan to do it, but he did it, and his ensuing guilt drives the novel and helps develop its most profound and troubling theme. 

After Finny was released from the infirmary following his injury, he went home to Boston for a while. Gene visits him there and attempts to confess what he had done, but Finny will not allow it. He does not want to talk about what happened. It is only in the novel's conclusion, shortly before Finny's death, that he and Gene speak openly of what had happened in the tree. Finny accepts that Gene had caused him to fall, but he refuses to believe it was done out of hatred:

Something just seized you. It wasn't anything you really felt against me, it wasn't some kind of hate you've felt all along. It wasn't anything personal.

Gene struggles desperately to make Finny believe this was true:

It was just some ignorance inside me, some crazy thing inside me, something blind, that's all it was.

Through his tears, Finny accepts this explanation, saying he understands and believes Gene. 

Gene spares Finny from the rest of the truth, the resentment, the anger, the suspicion, and the jealousy he had once felt toward him. The blind ignorance inside Gene, we can infer, was his own capacity for violence. The idea that there is "something ignorant in the human heart" occurs again to Gene when he concludes that it is this "ignorance" that causes war.

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What understanding do Finny and Gene reach about the incident in the tree in A Separate Peace?

You must be referencing chapter 5 in A Separate Peace. Gene goes to see Finny after noticing Finny's absence for days. Gene had been encouraged by Dr. Stanpole to go see Finny. Once there, he finds Finny looking awful, but ready to talk.

Gene tries to tell Finny what happened, but backs down and instead asks Finny what happened at the tree. For a few minutes Finny makes it seem as if he thought maybe Gene bounced the limb on purpose, but then confesses he feels bad for thinking that way. Gene can't quite bring himself to tell Finny the truth even though he wants to. Dr. Stanpole comes back in as Gene is just about ready to give Finny the truth, and Gene feels off the hook. By failing to say anything, Gene consented to agreeing that nothing foolish or of ill-will happened on that day.

From that point on, Finny put it out of mind that Gene may have done anything.

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