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A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace


by John Knowles

Gene Forrester Timeline and Summary

  • Gene returns to Devon to find that it is largely unchanged. He walks about campus for a bit, noting first the marble stairs and eventually heading to the tree by the Devon river, which he finds appears smaller than he remembered, likely because he has grown.
  • Gene heads back inside, out of the rain, and the narrative flashes back to his sixteen-year-old self during the Summer Session at Devon.
  • Convinced by Phineas, Gene jumps out of the tree into the Devon river.
  • On the way back to camps, he describes Phineas physically, wrestles with him for a bit, and misses dinner.
  • The next day, Gene watches in awe as Phineas talks their way out of a punishment for missing dinner.
  • During the afternoon tea at one of the masters' houses, Gene hopes that Finny will get in trouble for wearing the school tie as a belt. When he doesn't, Gene is disappointed.
  • Gene and Finny jump off the tree again and form the Super Suicide Society. Up in the tree, Gene stumbles and almost falls until Finny grabs and steadies him.
  • Gene is shocked when Finny breaks one of the school's swimming records and doesn't want to tell anyone. In his mind, this puts Finny in a separate plane.
  • Gene allows Phineas to talk him into going to the beach even though he has a test the next day. They sleep there, and the next morning Gene fails his exam. He decides that Phineas is plotting against him by trying to destroy his academic career.
  • Gene devotes himself to his studies with more vigor than ever.
  • It soon becomes clear that Finny is in fact NOT plotting against Gene. This makes Gene miserable, since now he knows that Finny is a better athlete AND a better person than he.
  • It is with this absurd fear that Gene ascends the tree with Phineas. Up in the tree, he "jounce[s] the limb" on which Finny is standing, causing him to fall and "shatter" his leg.
  • While Finny is in the Infirmary, Gene tries on Finny's clothes. This makes Gene feel better.
  • With great trepidation, Gene finally goes to see his roommate; he's afraid of being accused of having intentionally caused the accident.
  • But Finny doesn't suspect. Gene is about to tell the truth when Dr. Stanpole interrupts, so Finny is sent away before Gene confesses.
  • Gene goes home to the South for a month's vacation before the school year starts again in September. Before he returns to Devon, he visits Finny in his home outside Boston and confesses to having caused the accident.
  • When Finny refuses to accept this, Gene leaves and returns to school.
  • Gene has decided to be assistant manager of the crew team, but he gets in a fight with Quackenbush and ends up in the river.
  • On the way back, Gene runs into Mr. Ludsbury, who reports he has a long distance phone call.
  • The phone call turns out to be Phineas, who tells Gene that he needs to play sports on his behalf. Both boys decide to write-off Gene's confession back in Boston.
  • Next, Gene has to deal with Brinker Hadley and his accusations about Phineas.
  • When Gene heads off to help clear snow from the railroad tracks, he bumps into Leper, who is cross-country skiing and looking for a beaver dam.
  • After the tracks are clear, Gene and the others watch a troop train roll by. The boys start to feel as though they're wasting their time at Devon since there is a war going on.
  • When they get back to campus, they bump into Leper again. The exchange drives Brinker to declare that he's going to enlist, which thrills Gene and gets him thinking about doing the same thing himself.
  • When he gets back to his room, though, Finny is there.
  • His first day back, Phineas wants to skip class and walk (or crutch, as the case has it) around the campus. Gene complies, and the boys go to the gym, where Finny checks out the locker room for a bit.
  • Gene is amused by Phineas's "there is no real war" theory. When Phineas makes things awkward by talking about suffering, Gene does some chin-ups, and Finny decides they should train him for the 1944 Olympics.
  • Gene indeed begins training and becomes quite a powerful athlete under Finny's command.
  • He helps out with Finny's Winter Carnival before he gets a telegram from Leper asking for him.
  • Gene leaves that night and arrives at Leper's house in Vermont the next morning. Leper turns out to be crazy. When he accuses Gene of being "savage" and having pushed Finny out of the tree, Gene goes nuts and kicks over Leper's chair.
  • When they go walking outside and Gene hears Leper's descriptions of his psychotic visions, Gene runs away.
  • Back at Devon, Gene tries to cover for Leper, but finally gets tired of lying and admits to both Brinker and Finny that Leper has gone mad.
  • Gene gets nervous when Brinker again accuses him of having caused Finny's accident. When the boys are taken to the assembly hall after hours one night for an "investigation," Gene keeps quiet for the most part, though he interjects occasionally to profess his innocence and/or absence from the tree entirely.
  • After Finny's irate exit, Gene and the other boys hear the sound of him clattering down the stairs.
  • Post-fall #2, Gene reports to the reader with news-like objectivity and stoicism. (In other words, not Fox news.) He hears from Dr. Stanpole that this is a cleaner break than the first fall.
  • That night, Gene climbs in Finny's window at the Infirmary, only to find that his buddy is less than welcoming. Gene only manages to stutter a bit before exiting.
  • He then wanders around the school grounds and feels as though he's a ghost, that he's always been a ghost. He falls asleep outside the stadium.
  • When he wakes up the next morning, Gene brings some of Finny's things, at Dr. Stanpole's request, to the Infirmary.
  • The boys are alone long enough to, in short, work out their issues. They conclude that Gene only felt something "blind" and "crazy" up in the tree, and that it was "nothing personal" against Finny.
  • The next time Gene sees Dr. Stanpole, he is told that Finny is dead. He doesn't cry, then or even at the funeral, because he feels as though he too has died.
  • Gene watches troops marching into Devon along with Brinker. He meets Mr. Hadley and gains a deeper understanding of Brinker and his disillusionment with fighting.
  • Gene concludes that what made Phineas different was his resistance to enmity.