Study Guide

A Separate Peace Chapter 3

By John Knowles

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Chapter 3

  • OK, sure, so Finny saved his life, but it's Finny's fault that he was up there in the first place. (The gratitude was fleeting, it seems.)
  • Meanwhile, Phineas and the narrator welcome several other boys into their new "Suicide Society." Finny decides they need to meet every night, because he likes the regularity of it. The narrator isn't so keen on almost killing himself every night, but he never fails to jump because he doesn't want to "lose face with Phineas."
  • Finny, he realizes, for all of his rebellious attitude, adheres without fail to certain self-imposed "commandments." Take sports for example – "You always wins at sports," in Finny's mind. He never thinks about the fact that other people lose. In his mind, sports are absolutely and undeniably good.
  • As such, he's frustrated with Devon's summer athletics, which include such frivolities as badminton. To remedy the situation, Phineas designs his own game – Blitzball.
  • Blitzball is the perfect Phineas game, which makes sense, since Phineas made it up (as he went, too). Basically, there's a ball. And the boys have to run, and when they have the ball they get tackled. Ball, tackling, running…yep, that's about it. Oh, and there are no teams. Great.
  • Also, we finally get the narrator's name – Gene.
  • Gene assures us that, although Finny is extraordinary and impressive and awe-inspiring, he's not jealous. He's really glad to be Finny's friend. Honestly. Really. No lie. Seriously.
  • And now for some general rumination. The narrator reflects that "everyone has a moment in history which belongs particularly to him." For the rest of his life, that moment defines reality for him. For Gene, that moment is the war. In his mind, it will always be World War II.
  • Gene describes the atmosphere of the war in 1942: certain things, like nylon and gasoline, are hard to come by. Lots of jobs, not enough workers. Newspapers are always full of maps and names. It feels unpatriotic to enjoy certain luxuries. (There's more; we suggest you read your book.)
  • Gene moves into a story about the time Finny broke the school's swimming record. (He gives away the ending like that, don't look at us.)
  • Anyway, one day they're hanging out by the pool, Finny decides he can swim the 100 yard freestyle faster than the current record-holder, has Gene time him, and breaks the 53.0 second record by .7 seconds.
  • Gene is excited; he wants to get the coach and have Finny try again. But Phineas is having none of it. He doesn't want anyone to know about this – he just wanted to see if he could break the record.
  • Gene is astounded – not only by the fact that Finny isn't a swimmer and yet broke the sport's record immediately, but also by his modesty and pureness of motive. It makes Finny seem as though he's too good for rivalry – and this is odd at a place like the Devon school, where healthy rivalry governs all relationships.
  • Phineas declares that swimming in pools is stupid, and really, he and Gene should go to the beach.
  • Gene, who isn't familiar with the word "no," says "OK," even though the beach is 1) three hours away by bike ride, 2) completely illegal to visit, and 3) he has a huge test the next day.
  • So the boys bike to the beach and frolic in the waves. Before they fall asleep, Finny tells Gene that he's his "best pal." And Gene, though he feels he should return the statement, doesn't. "Perhaps I was stopped by that level of feeling," he says, "deeper than thought, which contains the truth" (3.73).

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