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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Book Summary
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CHAPTER 2

Summary

Gene and Finny have been missed at dinner. Mr. Prud'homme, one of the temporary teachers for the summer session, asks the boys about their absence. Finny answers, giving an eloquent, but ridiculous, explanation as Mr. Prud'homme listens with incredulity, but he does not reprimand him. Since it is the summer session, most of the teachers are more relaxed. They seem to enjoy the peace of Devon, away from the trauma of the raging war. Finny thinks that their relaxed enforcement of the rules is a sign of commendable maturity on their parts.

One day Finny wears an outrageous pink shirt, which he says will become his emblem. Gene believes that no one except Finny had the guts to wear such a shirt. When one of the teachers asks about the outrageous shirt, Finny gives an equally outrageous answer, speaking in a manner that no other student would dare to use. Gene begins to envy Finny's daring attitude.

Mr. Patch Withers, the substitute Head Master for the summer, holds a traditional term tea for the Upper Middle students. Finny wears his untraditional shocking pink shirt. During the tea, Finny gathers a crowd as he constantly talks about the war raging in Europe. He is enjoying the discussion of the war so much that he unbuttons his jacket to relax, revealing that he is wearing the official Devon tie as a belt. Gene is sure that Finny will be in lots of trouble for the indiscretion. Instead, Finny gives an incredible explanation of why he has worn the tie as a belt, somehow relating the matter to the bombing of Central Europe. Mr. Patch Withers, who is usually very grim, laughs out loud at Finny's response and then compliments him on his remarkable answer. Although Gene is jealous of Finny's unusual ability to get away with anything, he feels proud to have him as a close friend.


After the tea, Finny and Gene decide to go to the river. As they talk, Finny suggests that they form a Super Suicide Society for the Summer Session; in order to join the club, a student will have to jump into the river from the tree. Finny also suggests to Gene that the two of them should jump together into the river in order to strengthen their relationship; Gene reluctantly agrees. After they climb the tree and are ready to jump, Gene suddenly has a fit of panic and loses his balance, but Finny catches him and saves him from falling.

Notes

In this chapter, Gene begins to explain what Finny is really like. He is always looking for some new and exciting adventure. His spontaneous nature and his ability to get away with anything is clearly shown through the incidents with Mr. Prud'homme and Mr. Withers, where his fantastic explanations are judged as entertaining by the adults. Finny's daring is further revealed in the bright pink shirt that he wears as an emblem and his audacity to wear his Devon tie as a belt. Although Gene is proud to have this well-liked and courageous boy as a friend and a roommate, he finds that he also feels jealous of Finny for his daring ways; he knows that he could never be as free-spirited as his friend even though he longs to be. As a result, Gene frequently hopes that Finny will be punished for his antics. When he escapes punishment, it upsets Gene and causes him to place Finny on an even higher pedestal.

In spite of Gene's hidden feelings of jealousy, Finny seems to genuinely care for him. He suggests that they jump from the tree into the river together in order to strengthen their relationship. Additionally, when Gene almost falls out of the tree, Finny catches and saves him. (The irony of this incident will become obvious later in the book, when Gene intentionally causes Finny to fall from the tree and ignores his outstretched hand.) Finny also shows his closeness to Gene when he tells him about his plans to start a Suicide Society.

Jumping from the tree into the river becomes symbolic in the book. During the chapter, the tree is called "forbidden," alluding to the forbidden tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. When Gene climbs the tree, he is going into forbidden territory for him, for he is used to following all rules and regulations. When he jumps into the river, it is almost like a baptism into a new life. Gene, who has always been conservative and studious, wants to be more like Finny. By jumping into the water, it is as if he is trying to wash away his old ways and replace them with new ones that he is not really comfortable with. Throughout his relationship with Finny, a war between his two selves will cause conflict within him.

The chapter also introduces the fact that a world war rages in Europe as the boys attend Devon. At the headmaster's tea, Finny constantly talks about the bombing that is taking place in Central Europe. The underlying fear of fighting has changed the world for the adolescents at Devon, stripping them of security and hope. Even though they have calm and peaceful exteriors, there are anxieties within them all. Gene, in particular, is raging a personal battle with himself.

It is important in the chapter to notice the contradictions that exist in Finny. He spends the entire tea talking about the bombing in Central Europe. As soon as the tea is over, he tells Gene that he does not believe that America has really bombed Central Europe. He goes so far as to say that perhaps the whole war is a hoax; yet later in the book, it will be revealed that he is crushed because no branch of the armed services will allow him to have a job and participate in the war.

The language of the chapter should also be noted. Since Gene's conflict is not yet well developed, there is still an easy style in the narrative, which is clear and simple. The language is made more realistic by the use of typical slang that would be used by school aged boys. The descriptions, which are usually casual, vividly capture the actions and emotions of the characters. By the end of the chapter, it is clear that Gene is jealous of his friend Finny, whom he judges to be a super hero.

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