A Separate Peace Additional Summary

John Knowles


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The entire story of A Separate Peace is narrated by the main character, Gene Forrester. Every action in the novel is presented through his eyes, as Forrester looks back upon the summer and fall of 1942 from the perspective of 1957. Gene Forrester, therefore, is a thirty-one-year-old man looking back at the year 1942, when he was sixteen years old at the Devon School.

Gene Forrester has come to Devon from the South, although Knowles never specifically identifies Forrester’s home state. At Devon, Forrester is exposed to a distinctly New England environment as personified by three characters at the school: Brinker Hadley, Elwin “Leper” Lepellier, and Phineas (called “Finny,” with no last name given). There is...

(The entire section is 721 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1958, Gene Forrester returns to his preparatory school, the Devon School, and reflects on the events that occurred there fifteen years prior. His memories start with the summer session of 1942 and end after a tragic event during the 1943 school year. Central to Gene’s reflections is his relationship with his roommate and best friend Phineas, who most people affectionately call “Finny.”

As a student, Gene is a far more dedicated and successful than Finny, but he feels threatened by Finny’s athleticism. Gene also envies his friend for several reasons, including his honesty and his ability to get away with almost anything: School administrators rarely punish Finny since they are quelled by his sincere charm. Gene also proves subject to Finny’s charisma. The two often flout rules together, and in one instance they bike to the ocean. While there, Finny tells Gene that he considers Gene his best friend; Gene says nothing in return.

The summer of 1942 appears peaceful, and the students seem somehow apart from the rest of the world, which is plagued by the effects of World War II. On Finny’s initiative, some students form the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session. The society’s members engage in daring actions, such as jumping from an enormous tree into the river below. Gene and Finny jump together, and Finny considers this jump symbolic of the solidarity of their friendship. Meanwhile, Gene’s feelings of jealousy toward Finny grow; Gene feels irritated by Finny dragging him to Suicide Society meetings every night, especially when Gene wants to spend the evenings studying. Gene suspects that Finny, who is already more athletically gifted than he is, wants to sabotage Gene’s academic studies so Gene will no longer best Finny in any way.

One night, Gene tells Finny he does not want to attend the society’s meeting and expects a poor reaction from Finny. Instead, Finny simply tells Gene not to come along; he assumes Gene’s scholastic abilities are natural and apologizes for preventing him from studying. Confident that Finny’s intentions are pure, Gene decides to attend the meeting after all. At the meeting, Gene and Finny again climb the tree and prepare to jump. Gene’s knees bend, the limb they are standing on trembles, and Finny plummets to the ground. The impact completely shatters the star athlete’s...

(The entire section is 966 words.)