A Separate Peace Summary

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

     A Separate Peace by John Knowles takes place at Devon School in New Hampshire in 1942. The narrator, Gene Forrester, is a junior or upper middler at this time who rooms with his friend Phineas, also known as Finny. World War II is a growing problem, and boys are being drafted in the service when they turn eighteen. Gene and Finny are only sixteen when the book begins, so they do not have to worry about the war yet. The book begins during the summer term when Gene and Finny have decided to stay at school for additional classes. The rules are a bit more relaxed since it is summer, and the war is going on, which causes the teachers to feel sympathetic toward these boys. Finny likes to make his own rules anyway. He wears a pink shirt and uses his tie as a belt, but he still somehow avoids getting in trouble.

     Another thing they get away with is jumping from a tall tree into the river. Finny says it's to help the war effort by preparing themselves but mostly he is showing off. He always makes Gene do it with him. On their second jump they decide to form the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, which requires boys to make the jump to become members. Throughout the rest of the summer term, they group meets each night and more boys become members.

     That summer Finny also invents the game of blitzball, which involves tossing a medicine ball to each other while running toward the river. The game catches on and, along with the Suicide Society meetings, eats up a lot of Gene's time. One day when Gene and Finny are swimming, Finny attempts to break an old freestyle record that he sees posted on the wall, and he does. He does not want Gene to tell anyone about it though. Then he asks Gene to go to the ocean with him. They spend the night there. The next morning Gene starts questioning why Finny is using up so much of his time, keeping him away from studying. Gene knows he has a chance to be the top student in the class, and he starts to think that Finny is jealous of his position and wants to keep Gene from being first.

     These feelings eat at Gene until the next time when he finds himself at the top of the tree with Finny, preparing for a double jump. Gene shakes the branch, and Finny falls off, shattering his leg. When Gene went to visit Finny in the infirmary, he expected him to be mad at him, but he realized that even though Finny might have suspected what happened, he was never going to directly accuse Gene. The next day Finny was sent home. The summer session ended shortly after, and Gene returned home.

     On his way back to school in September, Gene decided to stop and visit Finny at his house. Gene revealed to Finny that he had caused his accident, but Finny didn't want to believe it. He said Gene was acting crazy and told him he would see him back at school around Thanksgiving.

     Back at school, Gene signed up to be the assistant crew manager with Cliff Quackenbush because all boys had to participate in sports in some way. Gene, however, no longer actually felt like competing in sports without Finny around. After practice when Quackenbush questioned Gene about why he wasn't actually playing any sports, Gene became angry and punched him. They fought and fell in the river. When Gene went back to the dorm, he returned a phone call from Finny who wanted to verify that Gene didn't have a new roommate. Finny felt better knowing that Gene was holding his spot for him. He also yelled about Gene about being a manager. If Finny could no longer play sports, Gene needed to do it for him.

     One day the boys help out with the war effort by shoveling snow from the railroad tracks. Leper, however, chooses to go out sightseeing on his skis. When Gene returns to his room, Finny is there. He uses crutches to get around. Finny denies that there is a war going on. Then Finny decides that he's going to begin training Gene for the 1944 Olympics.

     Leper, whose eighteenth birthday is a few weeks ago, decides to join the ski troops instead of being drafted. Finny decides to hold a Winter Carnival, which involves mostly drinking alcohol and a few prizes for various outdoor activities. The carnival ends with a telegram for Gene from Leper asking him to come visit him. Gene goes to Leper's house and learns that Leper has escaped from the service. It was too much for him. As they talk, Leper cries, and Gene can tell he's gone crazy. Gene leaves quickly.

     Gene returns to school to find Finny in a snowball fight. Gene later tells Finny and Brinker Hadley, their new neighbor, what happened to Leper. Finny admits that he believes the war is real. The next day before chapel, Gene sees Leper lurking around the campus.

     That night Brinker drags Gene and Finny to the Assembly Building for a trial. He pulled in around ten boys intending to ask Finny and Gene questions about what happened at the tree. Brinker has always suspected that Gene played a part in Finny's fall. They eventually decide they need an eye witness, so they go in search of Leper and bring him in to testify. Leper reveals some incriminating details about the scene, but he won't admit the final piece of information that Gene likely shook the branch. He becomes angry that Brinker is using him, and Finny takes this opportunity to storm away. He is using a cane by this point, but the slippery marble stairs are too slick for him, and he falls again.

     After calling for help, the boys carry Finny out on a chair to the car to transport him to the infirmary. Gene tries to climb in Finny's window after everyone has left to talk to Finny, but Finny isn't interested. Gene sleeps outside in the stadium that night. Later, he talks to Finny and admits that something just seized him on the tree limb. Finny says he knows it wasn't anything personal. Gene finds a note on his dorm door telling him to bring some of Finny's supplies to the infirmary that evening. When Gene goes, he learns that Finny has died. The doctor speculates that some of bone marrow must have stopped his heart. Although he is shocked, Gene doesn't cry, even during the funeral, because he feels as though Finny is a part of him, and people don't cry at their own funerals.

     Gene tells Brinker's father that he chose to join the Navy and knows Brinker has joined the Coast Guard. He is deployed to Pensacola, but the war ends before Gene ever has to face the enemy. He marvels that Finny was the only one at school that never had to face fear. The rest of them all had to face the war and were changed by it.

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A Separate Peace Chapters 3 and 4 Summary
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A Separate Peace Chapters 9 and 10 Summary
A Separate Peace Chapter 11 Summary
A Separate Peace Chapters 12 and 13 Summary
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Literature Summaries

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