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A Separate Peace

John Knowles

Chapter 4

Chapters 2–3

Chapter 4, page 2

page 1 of 2

I found a single sustaining thought. The thought was, You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity.

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After he and Finny sleep on the beach, Gene awakens with the dawn. Finny wakes up soon after and goes for a quick swim before they head home. They arrive just in time for Gene’s ten-o’clock test in trigonometry, which he flunks. It is the first time that he has ever failed a test, but Finny gives him little time to worry about it: they play blitzball all afternoon and have a meeting of the Super Suicide Society after dinner.

That night, Gene tries to catch up on his trigonometry and Finny tells him that he works too hard. Finny suspects him of trying to be class valedictorian, which Gene denies. Suddenly, however, he realizes that he does, in fact, want to be valedictorian so that he can match Finny and all of his athletic awards. Gene asks Finny how he would feel if he achieved the honor. Finny jokingly replies that he would kill himself out of envy; Gene feels that the jocular tone is a mere screen, however, and that there is some truth to Finny’s words. Believing that the envy in their relationship is mutual, Gene now perceives a rivalry that he never recognized before. Highly disturbed, he concludes that all of Finny’s overtures of friendship and insistence that Gene participate in all of his diversions are calculated to thwart him in his achievement of academic success comparable to Finny’s athletic success.

Gene works to become an exceptional student and begins to surpass his only real rival, Chet Douglass. Finny cannot compete with Gene academically, but he nonetheless intensifies his own studying. Gene interprets Finny’s hunkering down as merely an attempt to even out the sides of the rivalry, since Gene is an excellent student and a fairly good athlete, while Finny is an excellent athlete but a poor student. Despite Gene’s suspicions of Finny, the two get along well in the weeks that follow.

The masters of the school, meanwhile, give up any pretense of discipline, and one day Gene tells Mr. Prud’homme about his trip to the beach with Finny. To his surprise, the teacher shows no concern about their rule-breaking. Gene continues to attend the nightly meetings of the Suicide Society so as to prevent Finny from suspecting that their friendship might be flagging.

One night, as Gene studies for a French exam, Finny comes into the room and announces that Leper Lepellier is planning to jump from the tree by the river that night and thus become a full member of their society. Gene doesn’t believe that Leper would ever dare the feat and concludes that Finny must have talked him into the attempt in order to interrupt Gene’s studying. Gene complains that his grade will suffer and begins to storm out to the tree when Finny tells him casually that he doesn’t have to come along if he wants to study, as it is only a game. Finny says that he didn’t realize that Gene ever had to study; he thought his academic prowess came naturally. He expresses admiration for Gene’s intelligence and says that he is right to be so serious about something at which he excels. He tells Gene to stay and study, but Gene replies that he has studied enough and insists on going to see Leper jump.

As they walk toward the tree, Gene decides that there must never have been any rivalry between them after all. Moreover, he thinks that this latest interaction has proved that Finny is his moral superior: Finny seems incapable of being actively jealous of anyone. Finny proposes a double jump with Gene, and they strip and ascend the tree. Finny goes out onto the limb first, and when Gene steps out, his knees bend and he jostles the limb, causing Finny to lose his balance and fall with a sickening thud to the bank. Gene then moves out to the end of the limb and dives into the water, suddenly fearless.

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by jimmygaytens, November 25, 2014

Leper camps in his dining room after escaping the army, he also says he wanted to be in the ski unit. The dining room is a big part about Lepers escaping part.


by baby_girl92, May 26, 2015

this book sucks and its meaning isn't noticeable I hate this book and would support any of it nor suggest is to somebody


1 out of 2 people found this helpful


by haileykugel, August 14, 2015

Does anyone else believe that Finny is emotionally abusive towards Gene? Finny often tells Gene things along the lines of "you're not good enough to do that" and definitely takes control over Gene.

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