A Separate Peace

by: John Knowles

Finny

Characters Finny

Although we see all of the characters through Gene’s eyes, his perception of others is most significant in the case of Finny. Even as Gene resents his best friend and harbors dark, unspoken feelings of hatred toward him, he regards Finny at times with something akin to worship. His depiction of Finny contains a strong note of physical, if not erotic attraction. Finny is presented in classical terms, as a kind of Greek hero-athlete, always excelling in physical activities and always spirited—thymos, to use the Greek term. (These Greek heroes were, like Finny, fated to die young; the archetype was Achilles, who considered it preferable to live briefly and gloriously than to die of old age.) Energetic and vibrant, Finny is a tremendous athlete; friendly and verbally adroit, he is able to talk his way out of any situation. Finny finds himself in his element during Devon’s summer session; the substitute headmaster enforces few rules and Finny can let loose his spontaneity and boisterousness without restraint. Yet while he constantly tests the limits and asserts his own will, he seeks neither to emerge “victorious” in any argument or contest nor to “defeat” competing systems of rule. Blitzball, the game that he invents in which everyone competes furiously but no one wins, perfectly embodies Finny’s attitude toward life.

Finny’s perspective on competition speaks to a more profound wisdom and goodness regarding other human beings. Just as he dislikes games with winners and losers, so in life he always thinks the best of people, counts no one as his enemy, and assumes that the world is a fundamentally friendly place. These qualities, according to Gene, make Finny unique; Gene believes that humans are fearful and create enemies where none exist. But Finny’s inability to see others as hostile is his weakness as well as his strength; he refuses to attribute dark motives to Gene and he continues to subject himself to what may be a perilously—or even fatally—codependent relationship, never imagining that Gene’s feelings for him are not as pure as his for Gene.

Moreover, by assuming that everyone thinks like he does, Finny often acts selfishly, insisting that he and Gene do whatever he fancies. This carefree, self-absorbed attitude is one of the roots of Gene’s resentment toward Finny, though Finny, aware only of himself and seeing only the good in others, never seems to pick up on Gene’s inner turmoil. Finny is a powerful, charismatic figure—perhaps too good a person, as he inspires in Gene not only loyalty but also jealousy.