A Separate Peace
by John Knowles
A Separate Peace Chapter 11 Summary
- When Gene gets back to campus, he's desperate to see Finny – a boy whose only known conflict is that of sports, not war. Of course, he finds his roommate in the middle of a snowball fight, playing.
- He stands around and watches for a bit. When he turns to leave, Finny hits him on the back of the head with a snowball. He observes (AGAIN) Finny's walk, now that he's managing with a smaller cast. Any other person would have walked normally with such a minor impediment, but Finny, who used to walk with such a flow of energy, appears crippled by it.
- When Finny inquires about Leper, Gene avoids talking about that whole psycho bit of his personality.
- The snowball fight, which once had two distinct teams, quickly begins to break down as everyone begins pelting everyone else. The fight ends when they all turn on Phineas.
- Oh, sure, pick on the crippled guy.
- Later, Gene warns Phineas about taking it easy (e.g., not getting into snowball fights) lest he break his leg again.
- Finny says not to worry; he has a feeling that when a bone grows back together, it's stronger than it was to begin with.
- Oh, the symbolism.
- That night in the dorm, Brinker comes across the hall to visit, and we're all treated to a lengthy description of Finny and Gene's room. Finny has taped up on the wall newspaper pictures of Roosevelt and Churchill, which he explains shows them contriving the war. Gene has put up generally deceptive pictures about his home. He's from the South, sure, but he's put up pictures of plantation mansions. He even used to fake an accent, he said, though he learned in his years at Devon that he didn't need a false identity.
- Anyway, Brinker wants to know about Leper. Gene is tired of lying and admits that the boy is AWOL.
- Both Finny and Brinker are shocked. Brinker ventures that Leper must have gone mad, and Gene confirms.
- Brinker then makes a rather callous comment about Finny being "out of" the war (as in, he can never partake in the war because of his leg). Gene tries to negate the comment with Finny's argument that there is no war, but Finny simple replies, ironically, "Sure. There isn't any war." And Gene knows that all his fantasies – including that whole Olympics thing – are done.
- Meanwhile everything at Devon is being taken over by the war. News of training programs filter down to the campus, and the students spend more and more time thinking about their military futures.
- Brinker, for one, isn't having any of it. He's finding those uninterested in fighting and filling his days with activities that have nothing to do with the war.
- Gene, on the other hand, doesn't do anything.
- One day, Brinker takes Gene aside and gives him a talking to. He argues that the only reason Gene hasn't enlisted is that he's sticking around for Finny's sake, because he pities him.
- Gene tries to argue, but Brinker brings up that old "joke" about Gene's having caused Finny's accident.
- This makes Gene extremely nervous.
- As Gene helps Phineas with his Latin homework one night, the subject comes around to Finny's version of reality – in which there is no Caesar and, also, no war.
- But Finny is done with fantasy. He concedes that there is a war, since Leper has gone mad. ("If a war can drive somebody crazy, then it's real all right.") Then he admits that he saw Leper, on campus, and that's when he knew he was really nuts.
- This concerns Gene, since, as you may remember, Leper believes that Gene caused Finny's accident.
- That night, at 10:00 pm, Brinker Hadley and three of his buddies come to Finny and Gene's room, to take them out. As you might have guessed, this is largely illegal (even the seniors have to be back inside by ten, as we saw earlier). But since Brinker used to be the head of every club in existence, he's got a set of keys to most buildings on campus.
- The group steers Gene and Finny into the Assembly Room at the top of the First Building. Inside are about ten senior boys, so Gene figures this is some sort of senior prank.
- Oh, if only.
- Once they walk inside, Brinker starts making a public exhibition of Finny's limp, which Gene finds to be not so tactful.
- Then Brinker has them all bow their heads in prayer, which gives the occasion such a solemn mood that Gene can no longer declare it a joke and leave.
- After, Brinker asks Phineas to relate, in his own words, what happened up there in the tree.
- Gene cuts in, and Brinker shuts him down: "[We're] investigating Finny's accident!" he yells.
- Finny doesn't like the scenario either. In his mind, there's nothing to clear up. But Brinker is adamant, so Finny begins his story. At first he's all, "I just fell," but when Brinker presses him on this issue, Finny says something interesting. "I've had a feeling that the tree did it by itself. […] Almost as though the tree shook me out by itself" (11.136).
- It's clear that the whole event is fuzzy in Finny's mind. When Brinker presses for more details, he can't even remember whether or not he was alone in the tree at the time. First he thinks Gene was down at the bottom, then he thinks Gene was in the tree with him.
- The boys realize that this is getting them nowhere. Someone shouts out that Leper was there at the time, and that he's on campus now. Brinker sends one of the boys to bring him in as a witness.
- Gene keeps quiet, while silently reassuring himself that Leper is crazy, the boys will see as much, as no one will take him seriously.
- Leper enters the Assembly room. As he begins to give his testimonial, he speaks a bit like, well, a crazy person. When he describes the two boys up in the tree, he says that they moved "like an engine."
- Fortunately, he explains. An engine has two pistons; one moves, and then the other moves.
- Brinker wants to know which boy moved first – the one who fell, or the other boy.
- But Leper refuses to answer. He doesn't want to "implicate" himself, he says. Then he gets mad at Brinker, calling him a "bastard" and telling him to play the fool now.
- Before things can get ugly, Phineas stands up. "I don't care," he says, and heads for the doors. When Brinker yells that they have to collect the facts, Phineas turns back with tears in his eyes and curses at him before exiting.
- Then, from inside the Assembly Hall, the boys hear the sound of Phineas exiting, reaching the marble staircase, slipping, and tumbling down them.
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