Study Guide

A Separate Peace Chapter 8

By John Knowles

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Chapter 8

  • Phineas starts by making fun of Gene's clothes, which are old and, at this point, also smelly (since he's been working all day shoveling clear the railroad tracks).
  • He's also not too pleased about the fact that there are no maids this year (because of the war, Devon is cutting back). Gene, though, takes the matter in stride, unselfishly. He feels this is where he and Finny have grown apart.
  • It's about that time of night, so the two boys go to bed. Gene says prayers, which he didn't in Finny's absence.
  • The next morning, Phineas wakes with energy and asks Gene to hand him his crutches.
  • Then Brinker Hadley busts into the room, full to the brim with energy about he and Gene's enlisting in the army. When he sees Phineas, he sarcastically suggests that Gene's "plot" has failed.
  • Gene quickly changes the subject while Finny attacks him about enlisting. Gene shakes it off; it was just something he was considering, that's all.
  • Phineas readies for the shower, adamantly refusing any physical assistance from Brinker. Gene muses that Phineas now needs him (Gene that is). He can't enlist now.
  • So, instead, Gene and Finny make fun of Brinker. In the process, Brinker, who has in his three-and-change years at Devon thus far managed to avoid getting a nickname, is dubbed "Yellow Peril." And it sticks.
  • Gene muses some more on Finny's newfound dependence on him. He doesn't know why Finny chose him in particular, but he realizes that this somehow removes them further from the war, restores peace to Devon and to their lives. He's avoided a large wave by ducking, he says, but he is unaware that a bigger, more powerful wave is coming soon…
  • On the way back from chapel, Finny declares that he likes the winter. Therefore, he soon argues, it must love him back. When you really love something, it has to feel the same way about you. (Interesting!)
  • Gene doesn't agree, but because he feels this sentiment should be true, he doesn't argue.
  • Now, with Finny in crutches, Gene remembers the way that he used to walk. It wasn't so much walking but flowing, he explains, "in continuous balance." He realizes that his friend will never walk like that again.
  • Finny decides that he and Gene ought to skip class. Since it's his first day back, he feels he needs to walk around and see the place. He wants to go to the gym.
  • This is easier said than done, since the gym is all the way across campus and perilous ice covers the ground on the way. (Finny is on crutches, remember?) By the time they get there, Finny is sweating and tired. He pauses before the entrance, to catch his breath and relax, so that he can enter the building with a burst of energy. This is how he would always enter buildings, explains the narrator, now that he was on crutches.
  • As they enter the gym, Gene assumes Finny wants to go look at the trophies – especially the ones with his name inscribed. But he doesn't. Instead, Phineas heads to the locker room, and we're entertained with a rather poetic description of the way locker rooms smell and all the memories that scent can evoke.
  • When he's done, Finny asks Gene what sport he ended up going out for.
  • None, explains Gene. He stopped managing, sure, but now he's just going to gym classes.
  • Finny is outraged and doesn't understand why. He asks if maybe Gene has "swallowed all that war stuff," and proceeds to explain that all of World War II is fictional. A bunch of fat old men have made it up, just like they made up Prohibition and the Depression, in order to keep everyone in line.
  • Gene feels himself getting sucked in by the old Phineas charm, but then he looks down and sees Finny's white cast and is pulled back to reality. He asks what makes Finny so special, that the whole world should be duped and Finny alone knows the truth.
  • "Because I've suffered," responds Phineas, leading to a rather awkward moment for all.
  • Gene escapes the moment by…doing some chin-ups. Phineas demands that he do thirty, which Gene does, though he's never even completed ten before. And then both boys tacitly agree to never mention Finny's bitter comment about suffering again.
  • (See? There's nothing in this world that thirty chin-ups can't cure.)
  • The boys sit down, and Finny tells Gene that, before his accident, he used to be training for the '44 Olympics. When Gene responds that there isn't going to be an Olympics in '44, because of the war and all, Phineas responds with his no-war theory. He decides that he's going to train Gene for the Olympics, since he can no longer compete himself.
  • So that's what they begin to do. Meanwhile, Gene thinks more and more about Phineas's theory that there is no war. Every time they have dinner, he images the fat old men sitting around, eating steaks, and further plotting the fantasy.
  • One morning, early before classes, Gene is out with Phineas, running around the field in circles at his friend's command. Suddenly, part way through his run, Gene feels something change in his body. He finds that he's no longer tired, or hurting, or sore. He hits his stride.
  • When he finishes the run, Finny remarks that he must have "found [his] rhythm." Until now, he tells Gene, he must have been lazy. He must have not even known anything about himself. Gene agrees, noting that Phineas seems older that morning, and smaller – or maybe it's just that he himself feels bigger.
  • On the way back to the dormitory the boys run into Mr. Ludsbury. Finny explains that they're training for the Olympics. When Mr. Ludsbury responds by referencing the war, Finny simply says, "No."
  • This is rude and completely unacceptable thing to say to a master. Mr. Ludsbury is so taken aback at hearing something like this from Phineas that he hurriedly says good-bye and leaves. Finny then remarks to Gene that Ludsbury must not be in on the fat old men plot – probably because he's too thin.

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