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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles

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CHAPTER 5

Gene is numb in the aftermath of Finny's fall. He loses touch with his feelings, withdraws into himself, spends more and more time alone. He seems never to have socialized much with the other boys, and with Finny now in the school infirmary, Gene has temporarily lost his reason for being, so closely were they tied. Just before his fall Finny might have realized the truth of their closeness and asked Gene to jump with him in that spirit. Now it's too late.

In the privacy and quiet of their room, Gene decides to wear Finny's clothes. For a while he thrills to the realization that, in a strange way, he is Finny. He has existed as his friend's ambassador to the world, the medium through which others, like us, came to know him. If Gene cannot continue this role, however tentatively, he will have no practical purpose to serve.

NOTE: We ask ourselves whether it's healthy for anyone to suspend his or her own sense of identity to such a degree that it becomes completely incorporated into someone else. You have probably heard the phrase "Know thyself" offered as the key to an understanding of the world around you. Does Gene know himself well yet, or does he need Finny's tragedy to open his eyes?

Dr. Stanpole, the school physician, informs Gene that "sports are finished" for Finny. His leg, broken in several places, will never function normally again. Dr. Stanpole places on Gene the responsibility of helping Finny come to terms with this shocking fact, a fact that will be even more difficult to accept for a boy to whom sports represents everything that's wonderful and true about life, the ultimate activity in which there are supposed to be no losers.



Gene is now on a new path of his own. He's making the rapid discovery that he's expected to come through, to be someone Finny can literally lean on in his time of rehabilitation. Gene fights guilt, his new enemy on this path, and goes to visit Finny, who lies in bed in a cast, immobilized for the first time in his life.

Gene wants desperately to confess to Finny that the accident was his fault. He wants to clear the air and start afresh, yet he knows that he is the only person Finny has asked to see and that his friend maintains faith in him even now. It's an intolerable position.

Finny tries to recall what happened by the riverbank. "I just fell," he says, his eyes clouded by drugs, "something jiggled and I fell over." He doesn't want to accuse Gene. He is too noble, or perhaps some shadowy question remains. Each admits to wanting to "reach out" at the last moment: Finny's intention was to grasp for a trusted hand to hold; Gene's thought is that Finny wanted to drag him down too. They remain on opposite sides of the truth, the shadowy, elusive truth of an instant that is already beginning to fade in memory.

Gene is about to make a full confession-or he thinks he is-when Dr. Stanpole and the nurse arrive. The following day Finny is sent home to recuperate. The summer session comes to an end, appropriately enough for Gene, for until now summer had represented freedom, sports, and running outdoors, with Finny as the light and life of it all. Now all that has changed.

A month later, after a sojourn at home, Gene heads back to school for his senior year. On the way he makes a detour to call on Finny.

NOTE: The "surprise" reunion is no surprise to Finny, who appears to have been waiting anxiously in hopes his friend would come. For Finny, their allegiance still thrives. Gene has yet to understand just how much Finny needs him; he is still unable to stop idealizing Finny in one way or another, unable to stop making him into someone he really isn't. Gene's own muddled self-image makes it continually difficult for him to perceive Finny in a clear light.

They trade small talk for a while in Finny's living room. Gene is ill at ease in the plush, sedate surroundings. He is out of his element and wishes they were back on campus. "It was there that I had done it," he reflects, sitting opposite Finny, "but it was here that I would have to tell it." A burning need to confess has been smoldering within him for a month. Once again he seizes the time.

"I jounced the limb. I caused it," Gene tells Finny. "I deliberately jounced the limb so you would fall off." Finny does not want to believe this, and as soon as the words are out of his mouth, Gene regrets having said them. Gene is still uncertain, and he realizes that in confessing to the deed he has hurt Finny even more deeply. In a subtle, emotional way, he is planting the seed of doubt in Finny's mind at a time when the invalid has no way to distract himself from turning Gene's words over and over in his thoughts.

For every step forward he takes-coming to Finny's home, confessing to the crime-Gene takes a step back, regretting his words, finding a way to be off to school in order to escape into his hopes that somehow the situation will resolve itself. But it's not that simple. If you were Gene, what would you do? Every reader of A Separate Peace has to ask himself that question.

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Barron's Booknotes-A Separate Peace by John Knowles
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