A Separate Peace


Plot Summary

Gene Forrester returns to Devon School as a young man in his early thirties. He visits a stairwell in the school and a tree near the river. The tree prompts him to tell the reader the tale of his friendship with Phineas and how it changed his life.

The significance of the tree is revealed right away. The significance of the stairwell is not revealed until the novel’s climax. For now, Gene recalls how he and Finny would climb the tree and leap into the river. Finny shows no fear, since his balance is better than anyone’s. Gene, on the other hand, is frightened to take the dive. At one point he is saved from falling by Finny, who steadies him with a hand.

Finny and Gene become friends despite their differences. Finny is strong, athletic, happy, caring, and a born leader. Gene is more academically inclined, nervous, less confident, and prone to envy and malice. Nonetheless, Gene seeks acceptance from Finny. Since the two are roommates and Gene is inclined to follow, their friendship is soon solidified.

Still, Gene cannot keep himself from becoming envious of Finny’s success at breaking the rules with impunity, or of Finny’s charm, grace, and ability. Gene begins to think that Finny is secretly trying to sabotage Gene’s academic record. This thought proves to be unfounded, but Gene fails to keep himself from acting out. When he and Finny are in the tree, Gene shakes the tree branch, causing Finny to lose his balance, fall, and shatter his leg.

Guilt compels Gene to seek solitude while Finny recuperates at home. However, Gene tries twice to confess his guilt to Finny; the first time he is interrupted, and the second time Finny refuses to believe him. With the room to himself, Gene begins to think about his future without Finny, of the war, and of what he himself should do. Just when he has resolved to enlist, Finny returns. Gene’s resolve fades.

Finny can no longer play sports, so he tries to train Gene for the 1944 Olympics. Both know that this is a dream, but it occupies their time and keeps their...

Sign up to continue reading Plot Summary >

Essays About A Separate Peace