A Separate Peace

John Knowles

BACKGROUND

John Knowles wrote this book about kids at a boarding school. In case you donít know what a boarding school is, it is like a high school where the kids live in dorms away from home. The school in this story is based on Philips Exeter boarding school. The basic theme of the story is one friend being jealous of another.

MAIN CHARACTERS

Gene Forrester: In the beginning of the story, Gene is an adult, but the story is about his flashback when he is younger and in high school. Gene is a good guy. He is quiet and is NOT a leader-type. Gene is sometimes jealous of his best friend Finny, who is a really talented kid.

Phineas (Finny): This guy is Geneís best friend during school. Finny (his nickname) is a leader. He is always the center of attention. Heís funny, athletic and handsome. Finny is like that perfect kid you hated in school. Well, you hated him if you were a dork and he didnít hang out with you. All the kids look up to him and they do what he says causeís he is such a cool dude.

Erwin Lepellier (Leper): This guy is a follower but heís no pushover. He is in Gene and Finnyís group of friends. He is a bit of a dork.

Brinker Hadley: Brinker is an average guy. Heís smart, and athletic, but heís not TOO smart. He tries TOO hard to be a leader. Heís not a natural cool guy, like Finny. Brinker is jealous of Gene and Finnyís good friendship.

PLOT

The book starts out with Gene as an adult. He is visiting his old school. Then he has a flashback to his high school days. The whole story is one big flashback. Gene and his best friend Finny are on a tree branch. Finny is daring some other kids to jump from that branch into the river. Then the story talks about stuff they do every day. They have tea, jump off that tree, and basically screw around. One day Gene almost falls off the tree and Finny saves his life. Then the boys play blitzball, some game that Finny makes up. While these kids are at school, there is a war going on. The kids think about enlisting in the army.

Anyway, Gene and Finny are good friends. One day Finny makes Gene go to the beach with him and Gene is late for a test and fails it. From that point on, he thinks that Finny is trying to ruin his grades by distracting him from studying and stuff. He thinks Finny wants him to fail. Then another day, Gene is studying for a test. Finny tries to get him out to the tree to jump into the river (Once again pulling him away from studying) Gene gets revenge on Finny by shaking the branch that Finny is standing on. Finny falls and breaks his leg.

Gene tries to apologize to Finny but Finny tells him thereís no need to. Finny can never play sports again. The next school term, Finny isnít there. So Gene makes friends with some other boys. He is paranoid and thinks that they all suspect him of hurting Finny on purpose (Which he did). The war is still going and the boys keep thinking of enlisting. Gene doesnít like being at school, so he decides to enlist. Then Finny returns to school and Gene changes his mind about enlisting because Finny is back. He has a cast on. Gene feels so guilty, so he helps Finny around and does all this stuff for him. Finny wants Gene to play sports, because he canít with his leg being broken and all. Finny helps him to workout. Then "Leper" enlists in the army and goes to basic training. During a school festival at school, Gene gets a telegram from "Leper" asking him to come to Vermont. Gene goes and finds that Leper hated basic training and is now a nutcase.

Brinker is too much of a baby to enlist. So he gets pissed and takes his anger out on Gene. He asks Gene about the tree incident (if Gene shook the branchÖFinny fell off the tree.) Brinker holds a mock trial to find out the truth. Then "Leper" comes back to school and tells everyone that he saw Gene push Finny off the tree. Finny is upset at all this and leaves. On his way out he falls down some stairs and breaks his leg AGAIN.

Then Gene and Finny have a big heart to heart talk. They establish that they are best of friends. Then Finny dies during the operation to fix his leg. Then in the end, Gene is a changed man and goes through a symbolic change. Blah blah blah.

CHAPTER BY CHAPTER

CHAPTER 1

  • Gene is the narrator of the book.
  • Gene (as an adult) visits his old school, the Devon school.
  • Gene is kinda scared to visit his old school.
  • He visits a tree that apparently was important to him
  • Then the flashback begins. He is now Gene at age 16 at Devon school.
  • He is there in 1942. It is summer school.
  • Gene is sitting at a tree with his friend Finny. Finny dares Gene and some other boys to jump off the tree into the river below.
  • Finny jumps and then Gene jumps. The book talks about WHY Gene jumps...he jumps because he looks up to Finny and does whatever Finny wants so Finny likes him

CHAPTER 2

  • The boys are in their room and a teacher comes in. He yells at the boys because they missed dinner.
  • Finny tells the teacher some lie. Gene talks about Finny and how heís a great BS artist.
  • Finny tells the teacher they were jumping off the tree to practice for war.
  • Finny is a rebel. He goes to afternoon tea totally out of dresscode. Again he talks his way out of it.
  • Gene starts to become jealous of Finny because heís always the center of attention.
  • They go to jump off the tree again. Gene looks like a follower or a pansy because he does anything Finny tells him to
  • Gene almost falls but Finny saves him

CHAPTER 3

  • Gene does not thank Finny for saving his life. In his mind he thinks it is Finnyís fault because Finny made him go out to the tree
  • They form a club of kids who jump off the tree (Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session)
  • Every night they do it. Gene and Finny jump first then the other boys jump.
  • Gene notices how independent Finny is and what a leader he is
  • One day they are walking and Finny finds a medicine ball. He creates the game of blitzball. Gene becomes more and more jealous of Finny because Finny is so much more talented/popular than he is
  • Then Finny breaks a swimming record at the school. But only Gene and Finny saw it. So only Gene knows it. This eats him up inside even more.
  • Finny convinces Gene to go to the beach. Gene says no at first but Finny is like a drug. Gene canít say NO
  • On the beach, Finny tells Gene that he is his best friend. Gene does not tell Finny that he is HIS best friend (probably because heís so jealous)
  • Then the book talks about friendship and stuff

CHAPTER 4

  • They wake up the next morning on the beach
  • They bike back to school and Gene is tired
  • Gene is so tired that he fails a Math test. Then after he fails, the kids play blitzball and jump off the tree some more.
  • After the beach thing, Gene thinks that Finny is trying to ruin Geneís life. He thinks Finny is purposefully distracting him so he canít study and fails tests.
  • He thinks Finny is really competitive and doesnít want Gene to do anything better than him (Finny is the good athlete, Gene is the good student)
  • Now he thinks that Finny is his enemy
  • Earlier in the book, it was hazy what Gene though of Finny. Now he hates him.
  • Exams come and Gene wants to kick Finnyís ass in grades.
  • One day when Gene is studying, Finny tells him that Arthur Lepellier (Leper) is gonna leap for the first time. Finny tells Gene that he needs to be there since heís a founding member of the club.
  • Gene is mad because Finny is distracting him again, but Gene goes with Finny anyway.
  • Gene and Finny get ready to jump off the tree. They jump side by side. Before they jump Gene shakes the branch, and Finny falls to the ground.
  • Finny falls down to the ground. Gene jumps off the branch and into the river. Finny is hurt. Gene is not.

CHAPTER 5

  • Finny breaks his leg and has to go to the school hospital. Gene feels really bad.
  • When Finny is in the hospital, Gene really doesn't have any friends, so heís alone all the time.
  • Then Gene gets a little weird. In his room he starts putting on Finnyís clothes. He thinks he is Finny or a pipeline to Finny or something like that.
  • The school doctor tells Gene that Finny will never play sports again.
  • He wants Gene to help Finny cope with this news since Finny is such a sports freak.
  • Gene feels so guilty about shaking the branch and causing Finnyís accident. He goes in to visit Finny. He wants to confess.
  • He almost confesses, but the doctor walks in. Then Finny is sent home to get better.
  • The summer school session ends, and Gene goes home.
  • After a month vacation, Gene goes back to school and stops at Finnyís house.
  • Gene still feels really guilty, and confesses.
  • Gene now regrets telling him. Finny does not believe Gene (that we would do that on PURPOSE)

CHAPTER 6

  • The fall comes and everyone comes back to school.
  • Finny is still at home with a broken leg.
  • Gene misses Finny. Heís always thinking about the good memories of Finny he had when they played together at school.
  • Gene signs up to be the assistant manager of the crew team
  • The captain of the crew team doesnít like Geneís attitude. They trade insults and then fight. Finny isnít a coward and fights back because he draws inspiration from his pal Finny (weird huh?)
  • Gene keeps thinking about Finny.
  • Gene goes back to his dorm and a teacher yells at him because Gene looks terrible, and yells at him about gambling in the dorm.
  • Then Gene gets a call from Finny (who is still at home)
  • They talk and Finny tells Gene that he doesnít believe that he shook the branch on purpose
  • Finny is kinda upset that Gene is the asst. manager of the crew team and not PLAYING a sport. Finny wants him to play in his place. Gene thinks that the 2 boys share one common bond so if one doesnít play sports, the other doesnít either.

CHAPTER 7

  • The beginning of the chapter talks about clothes and how what the boys wear reflects their personality.
  • We meet Brinker Hadley. Brinker is jealous because Gene has a single room (no roommate...remember Finny is at home).
  • Brinker stops by Geneís room. He accuses Gene of making sure that Finny never comes back to school (So Gene can have a single)
  • Then Brinker accuses Gene of making Finny fall off the branch on purpose (which he did)
  • Brinker makes Gene go to this mock trial where some boys ask him about the tree incident.
  • Gene gets out of the mock trial by saying he has to study
  • Winter comes and the war is coming too. 200 boys are asked to go shovel some snow in a railroad yard to help out the army
  • This kid named Arthur Lepellier ("Leper") doesnít go. He stays behind to go skiing.
  • Gene goes to shovel and sees Leper. Leper is just doing his own thing. Heís an independent dude.
  • After shoveling, the boys talk about the war and about enlisting.
  • Brinker is the first boy to enlist. Then Gene is inspired and he decides to enlist. He goes back to his room and finds that Finny is there

CHAPTER 8

  • Finny and Gene are happy to see each other. Gene realizes that for the 1st time, Finny has to rely on him (to get his crutches, etc)
  • Brinker goes to see Gene and Gene says that he in NOT enlisting (because Finny is there now)
  • Brinker drops out of enlisting too
  • Finny is back in school and Gene takes care of him and helps him out
  • Finny gets Gene to cut class to go to the gym.
  • They go to the gym and Finny is sad because he is reminded of sports but he will never be able to play them again. Finny tells Gene that he has to take his place in sports.
  • So Finny begins to teach Gene sports and Gene teaches Finny academics
  • Gene tells some teacher that he is training for the 1944 Olympics (next Olympics)

CHAPTER 9

  • Leper enlists in the army. He thinks heíll get to ski in the war. He leaves school.
  • Finny tries to forget about the war. The boys go to the schoolís winter carnival.
  • Brinker is jealous because Finny is back now. Finny is the leader of the group and Brinker feels threatened.
  • The boys have their carnival and they drink cider and get drunk.

CHAPTER 10

  • We learn that Leper leaves the army and goes home.
  • Gene gets a telegram from him asking him to come visit. So Gene goes to Vermont to see whatís up with Leper.
  • Gene finds out that Leper escaped from the army because he hated it.
  • Gene talks to Leper and sees that the boy has gone bonkers. He is kinda crazy.
  • Leper tells Gene about the army and how horrible it was. Gene is weirded out by Leper and leaves. He is kicking himself that he even visited Leper in the first place.

CHAPTER 11

  • Gene leaves Leperís house and goes back to school
  • Finny is much better now and walks without crutches
  • Gene tells everyone how screwed up Leper is. The boys are sad and scared at what war can do to your mind
  • The army comes to the school to try and recruit boys.
  • One day Brinker talks to Gene about Finnyís accident. Once again Brinker accuses Gene of shaking the branch and causing Finnyís accident.
  • Brinker comes home one night and gets Gene and Finny. He takes them to a place to have another mock trial about Finny's accident
  • Gene is scared that the truth will come out.
  • Gene and Finny tell the "judges" about the night it happened. Then Finny tells everyone he saw Leper back on campus. They go find him because he might have something to add about that night
  • Leper comes into the mock trial and spills the beans. He tells all the boys how Gene shook the branch on purpose, causing Finny to fall.
  • Finny is really shocked, so he runs out of the mock trial. He leaves in such a hurry that he falls down the stairs and breaks his leg AGAIN

CHAPTER 12

  • The doctor comes and takes Finny away to the hospital
  • Gene learns that this accident was worse than his first broken leg. Gene is scared
  • Gene sneaks into Finnyís hospital room at night. Finny is mad at Gene because he now knows Gene caused Finnyís 1st accident on purpose. Gene apologizes
  • Gene is sad because his friend is mad at him
  • The next day he goes back to Finnyís room. They apologize to each other and kiss and make up.
  • Gene apologizes for shaking the branch and tells Finny why he did it. For some odd reason Finny understands and forgives him
  • Gene goes back to classes, then goes back to visit Finny.
  • Gene finds that Finny is dead. During the operation to fix his leg, the doctor screwed up and Finny died.
  • Gene goes to Finnyís funeral but does NOT cry.

CHAPTER 13

  • Their senior year at school ends. Gene and Brinker become better friends for some reason (common bond in Finnyís death)
  • Brinker enlists in the coast guard and Gene enlists in the navy.
  • Gene thinks back about how much he loved Finny and how Finny was his hero.

THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART

  • The big theme of this book is the friendship between Finny and Gene. Friendship is supposed to be about trust and love.
  • Their friendship "looked" like it had trust and love, but deep down it was full of jealousy and hate.
  • Gene hated Finnny deep down. He hated the fact that he was so popular and talented. The kind of situation where he kept his enemies close to him.
  • The boys grow up in this book. They start out as little boys, playing around etc. But because of the different events in the book, they become men.
  • Even their childish activities have more of an adult like appearance. Instead of jumping off trees, they have a society to jump of trees. They have a mock trial for Finnyís accident.