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A Separate Peace Summary

Essay by   •  February 11, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  4,195 Words (17 Pages)  •  2,633 Views

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Ch 1

As the novel opens, Gene Forrester returns to Devon, the New Hampshire boarding school he attended during World War II. Gene has not seen Devon for 15 years, and so he notices the ways in which the school has changed since he was a student there. Strangely, the school seems newer, but perhaps, he thinks, the buildings are just better taken care of now that the war is over.

Gene walks through the campus on a bleak, rainy November afternoon, revisiting the buildings and fields he remembers--and especially two places he recalls as "fearful sites." At the First Academic Building, he enters the foyer to look closely at the white marble steps. Then he trudges across the playing fields to the river in search of a particular tree and finally recognizes it by its long limb over the water and the scars on its trunk. The tree, he thinks, is smaller than he remembers. The chapter section ends with Gene heading back to shelter through the rain.

The second section opens during the summer of 1942 when Gene is 16. He is attending a special Summer Session at Devon, designed to speed up education to prepare the boys for the military draft in their senior year.

Gene stands at the same tree with his best friend and roommate, Phineas (nicknamed Finny), and three other boys, Elwin Lepellier (Leper), Chet Douglass, and Bobby Zane. The tree seems enormous to Gene, but Finny suddenly decides to climb it and jump into the river, just like the Devon 17 year olds, who are training for military service. Finny jumps and dares Gene to follow. Against his better judgment, Gene climbs the tree and also jumps, but the three others refuse. .

The shared danger of jumping brings Finny and Gene closer. While the rest of the boys hurry ahead at the sound of the bell for dinner, the roommates playfully wrestle until they are late for the meal. They slip into the dormitory, where they read their English assignments and play their radio (against school rules), until it is time for bed.

Ch 2

The morning after the boys first jump from the tree, Mr. Prud'homme, a substitute Master for the summer, scolds Gene and Finny for missing dinner. Finny tells Mr. Prud'homme that they were late because they were jumping out of the tree to prepare for military service--a far-fetched excuse he weaves into a long, funny explanation. Finny's friendly chatter charms Mr. Prud'homme, and the Master lets the boys off without punishment.

That day Finny wears a very un-Devon bright pink shirt, and its unconventional color draws Gene's attention. The shirt, Finny insists, is an "emblem"--a celebration of the first Allied bombing of Central Europe. Later, at a formal tea, Finny wins over the strict Mr. Patch-Withers with his "emblem." Finny even gets an appreciative laugh from the faculty and their wives when they see that he has also used his Devon tie as a belt, a gesture of disrespect for which anyone else would have been punished.

After the tea, Gene and Finny walk across the playing fields talking. Finny declares that he does not believe the Allies bombed Central Europe, and Gene, surrounded by the peace and serenity of the elms, agrees. Bombs in Central Europe, Gene reflects, seem unreal to a boy at Devon.

As they approach the river, Finny dares Gene to jump out of the tree again. When Gene accepts, Finny offers to jump at the same time, to "cement" their "partnership." They also decide to form the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, in which all members will have to jump from the tree.

On the limb, Gene turns to talk to Finny and suddenly loses his balance. Instantly, Finny grabs Gene's arm, steadying him, and then both jump successfully into the river. Only later, after dinner, does Gene realize that Finny's quick response may have saved his life.


As this chapter opens, Finny is recruiting the other boys for the Suicide Society. Every night, Gene and Finny jump from the tree and then watch their friends jump in order to join the club. This nightly meeting is the only scheduled activity Finny never misses. Gene goes along every time, but secretly he hates it.

Early in the summer, Finny becomes dissatisfied with the school sports program--badminton, in particular--and decides the boys should make up their own game (blitzball). He hurls a heavy medicine ball at Gene and challenges him to do something with it. Gene runs wildly with it, is tackled by the other boys, while Finny calls out plays, improvises rules on the run, and generally makes up the game as the boys play it. Chaotic blitzball turns out to be the hit of the summer, and Finny, naturally, proves to be the best player.

In the next section of the chapter, Gene remembers the time Finny broke the school swimming record. The two boys are alone in the pool when Finny notices a record from 1940 and decides to try to break it. With Gene as his timekeeper, Finny beats the record by .7 seconds, but there are no witnesses so the time will not count. When Gene encourages his friend to try again the next day to make it official, Finny refuses and asks Gene not to speak about it to anyone.

Finny then proposes a trip to the beach. Gene feels he should be studying for a trigonometry test, but agrees anyway. In violation of school rules, the boys ride their bicycles to the shore, where they swim in the ocean, eat hot dogs, drink beer, and sleep that night among the sand dunes. Just before falling asleep, Finny confides to Gene that he considers him his "best pal." Gene realizes that he should tell Finny he feels the same about him, but says nothing.


The boys ride back from the beach to Devon, arriving just in time for Gene's trigonometry test--the first examination Gene fails. Blitzball and the Suicide Society occupy the rest of the day and evening, and Gene begins to suspect that Finny is deliberately keeping him from studying. Instead of a "best pal," Gene begins to see his roommate as a deadly rival.

Finny already stands unchallenged as the best athlete at Devon, and Gene hopes to even up their status by becoming the best student. He sees Finny's games and rule-breaking--and even Finny's occasional studying--as a rival's sneaky attempts to make him fail.

The night before an important French examination, Finny announces that Leper is finally going to jump from the tree and so become a member of the Suicide Society. Unconvinced that Leper will jump and suspicious that Finny is really using this as an excuse to keep him from studying, Gene bursts out angrily at his roommate. Surprised and concerned, Finny tells Gene to stay and study, if



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