The narrator and protagonist of the novel. When A Separate Peace begins, Gene is in his early thirties, visiting the Devon School for the first time in years. He is thoughtful and intelligent, with a competitive nature and a tendency to brood. He develops a love-hate relationship with his best friend, Finny, whom he alternately adores and envies. He often seems to want to lose hold of his own identity and live as a part of Finny, a tendency suggesting that he is strongly uncomfortable with his own personality. Yet the reader must infer this aspect of Gene, like much of his character, from the actions that he recounts rather than from any explicit statements regarding his mindset: Gene often proves a reticent and unreliable narrator when it comes to his own emotions.
Gene’s classmate and best friend. Finny is honest, handsome, self-confident, disarming, extremely likable, and the best athlete in the school; in short, he seems perfect in almost every way. He has a talent for engaging others with his spontaneity and sheer joy of living, and, while he frequently gets into trouble, he has the ability to talk his way out of almost any predicament. According to Gene, he is rare among human beings in that he never perceives anyone as an enemy, and never strives to defeat others. Finny’s behaviors also suggest that he relishes pure achievement rather than competition. His fatal flaw is that he assumes that everyone is like him—that everyone shares his enthusiastic and good-natured spirit.
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A classmate of Gene and Finny. Leper is a mild, gentle boy from Vermont who adores nature and engages in peaceful, outdoor-oriented hobbies, like cross-country skiing. He is not popular at Devon but seems to pay no attention to such things; only later does the text hint at his desire to be closer to Gene and his jealousy of Finny’s position as Gene’s best friend. He is the first boy from Gene’s class to enlist in the army, but military life proves too much for him, and he suffers hallucinations and a breakdown.
A charismatic class politician with an inclination for orderliness and organization. Brinker is very straight-laced and conservative. He has complete confidence in his own abilities and has a tendency to carry his ideas through with startling efficiency—at times even ruthlessness. Manifesting a mindset opposite to that of Finny, who delights in innocent anarchy, Brinker believes in justice and order and goes to great lengths to discover the truth when he feels that it is being hidden from him.
The manager of the crew team. Quackenbush briefly assumes a position of power over Gene when Gene volunteers to be assistant crew manager. The boys at Devon have never liked Quackenbush; thus, he frequently takes out his frustrations on anyone whom he considers his inferior.
Gene’s main rival for the position of class valedictorian. Chet is an excellent tennis and trumpet player and possesses a sincere love of learning.
The master in charge of Gene’s dormitory. A stern disciplinarian, Mr. Ludsbury thrives on the unquestioning obedience of schoolboys and works hard to restore order after the anarchic summer session.
Devon’s resident doctor. Dr. Stanpole operates on Finny after both of Finny’s accidents. He is a caring man who laments the troubles that afflict the youth of Gene’s generation.
The substitute headmaster of Devon during the summer session. Mr. Patch-Withers runs the school with a lenient hand.