A Separate Peace
by John Knowles
A Separate Peace Chapter 6 Summary
- Back at school, Gene feels as though peace has left the campus. He can feel the change, now that the Summer Session is over and the fall has begun. The full-time masters (again, teachers) are back, and unlike those lax summer dudes, these guys are all about the rules.
- The boys attend the opening church service, in which "continuity" is stressed. But Gene knows that things are different here. Too many rules were broken over the summer for the boys to just willingly go back to the rigidity of years passed.
- Still, he knows that summer officially ended once Finny fell from the tree. That proved that the rules of Devon were there for a reason, that "if you broke the rules, then they broke you" (6.7).
- Now that the normal school year has started, all 700 students are back, attending classes and generally making an adolescent ruckus.
- Gene has the same room which he and Finny shared over the summer, but of course Finny isn't back yet, so Gene is alone. Across the hall, in Leper's old room, alpha male Brinker Hadley has moved in. (Leper ended up in another dormitory.)
- This depresses Gene. He prefers good old naturalist Leper, with his collection of snails, to this Brinker guy.
- Meanwhile, sports are in full fall swing. Gene heads down to the crew house, which sits on Devon's second river, the Naguamsett. During the summer, he and the others had spent their time on the fresh-water river (called the Devon), since the Naguamsett is brackish and filthy.
- On the way to the crew house, Gene stops to remember Phineas in one of his classic Finny-esque poses: balanced on the prow of a canoe "like a river God," reaching upward and posing until, you know, he fell into the water.
- When he gets to the crew house, Gene has to deal with Quackenbush, who is, in short, a total jerk. Quackenbush chides Gene (whom he refers to by his last name, Forrester) for being late. Then Quackenbush teases him for wanting to be crew manager at all. (Jobs like manager are usually taken, Gene explains, by boys who have some sort of disability.)
- Quackenbush, who everyone hates, starts picking on Gene in general, mostly because he's never had someone he could pick on before. He's usually the guy getting mocked.
- Gene, for the most part, just takes it. But then Quackenbush calls him "maimed," and Gene socks him in a good one in the face. "It was almost as though I were maimed," explains Gene, remembering that someone else (Finny, ahem, ahem) is.
- The boys skirmish for a bit and end up in the water together before Quackenbush tells Forrester to leave.
- Gene believes that he fought that battle, the first of many, for Finny. But then he realizes he did it more for himself.
- On the way back to the dormitory, Gene runs into Mr. Ludsbury, one of the masters. He gives Gene a hard time for being dripping wet (from the river) and for his part in what, rumor has it, was a very rowdy Summer Session at Devon. Ludsbury demands that Gene and the others clean up their act, stop gambling at night, and get rid of that illegal icebox of Finny's.
- He then informs Gene that there's a long-distance phone call for him. Gene heads into the dormitory, curious as to who could possibly be calling him now.
- It's Phineas, calling from his home outside Boston.
- Finny is in a good mood. He's pleased as punch that his spot as Gene's roommate hasn't been given away, and uses this fact to confirm Gene's loyalty (for saving his spot, essentially). He then says, "You were crazy when you were here" in an attempt to pass the whole thing off as a joke.
- Gene plays along; "I guess I was," he says.
- With that put behind them, Phineas wants to hear about sports. He's horrified at the thought of Gene managing instead of competing.
- This is where we get the explanation from narrator Gene – he wanted nothing more to do with sports. If sports were finished for Finny, then they were finished for him, too.
- But Phineas doesn't feel this way. "If I can't play sports," he says, "you're going to play them for me."
- This is when Gene realizes that his purpose is now to "become part of Phineas."
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