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Free Study Guide-A Separate Peace by John Knowles-Free Book Summary
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CHAPTER 4

Summary

When Gene wakes up on the beach the next morning, he sees dawn as a strange gray thing, like sunshine seen through burlap. As Finny begins to wake, Gene is reminded of Lazarus, brought back to life by the touch of God. When Finny is fully awake, he suggests that they should go for a swim. Gene, however, reminds him that they have a trigonometry test at ten o'clock. Unconcerned about the test, Finny is determined to go for a short swim and enjoys fighting the powerful waves. All the while, Gene is nervous and concerned about the time. They barely arrive at trigonometry class in time for the test. Gene, apparently rattled by the events of the morning, fails the test; it is the first time he has ever flunked an exam. Finny tells him not to worry and does not give him time to think about it. After lunch they play blitzball, which takes up all the afternoon. After dinner there is a meeting of the Super Suicide Society.

That night as Gene works on his trigonometry lessons, Finny makes fun of him; he tells him that he is working too hard trying to be the class valedictorian. Finny reminds Gene that the chance of his being first in the class is really very slim, for he has very strong competition in the form of Chet Douglass. He also says that he would kill himself out of jealousy if Gene were to be the first in the class. Gene now thinks that Finny has been deliberately trying to ruin his grades by distracting him with blitzball and the Suicide Society. As a result, he decides to distance himself from Finny, concentrating harder on his studies and not being so easily distracted. Gene is determined to do well on the forthcoming exams in August. Throughout the rest of the summer, Gene studies diligently and plays little. At times he finds himself missing the adventures with Finny; he even feels himself "slipping back into affection" for his roommate.

Finny and Gene try to prepare for a French exam together. Gene, however, is unable to get much work done, so after supper he goes back to his room to study by himself. Finny arrives to say that Leper Lepellier, a well-known coward, plans to jump from the tree that night. He invites Gene to come and witness the event, but Gene refuses, saying that he wants to study. Finny suddenly realizes that studies do not come as easily for Gene as sports do for himself. Gene, not a genius, has to work hard to earn his good grades.


Finny tells Gene that is more important for him to study than to jump from a tree and encourages him to make straight A's. He comments that when a person is good at something, he must always take it seriously. Finny knows he is good at sports, which he takes seriously, performing as the best athlete in school. Gene is very surprised by Finny's kind behavior; he now believes that Finny has never considered him to be his rival and has never been jealous of him. As a result, Gene decides to stop studying and go with Finny. They reach the tree and decide to jump together. They both climb the tree, with Finny in front. Gene crawls forward behind Finny and bounces the limb, causing Finny to lose his balance and fall out of the tree. He hits the bank with a loud thud. Gene jumps into the river, to wash away his fear.

Notes

This chapter is filled with descriptive images. It begins with a description of the gray dawn, like looking at the sunlight through burlap, and ends with a picture of the gray dusk with Finny lying injured on the riverbank. When Gene looks at the waking Finny in the morning, he is reminded of Lazarus, a figure in the Bible who is raised from the dead. The reference to death early in the chapter foreshadows the near-death experience that Finny has at the end of the chapter.

During the chapter, the contrasting characteristics of Gene and Finny are again depicted. By nature, Gene is quiet and studious, capable of being the best student in his class. By contrast, Finny is a weak student. Although he can answer questions well orally, his written exams are always poor. Instead of studying, Finny devotes himself to sports, becoming the best athlete at Devon. When Finny teases his roommate about trying too hard to be the valedictorian, Gene begins to think that Finny is jealous of him and is deliberately trying to take him away from his studies so his grades will suffer. As a result, Gene has a new commitment to his lessons and decides he will not be distracted by Finny anymore.

When Gene fails the trigonometry test, he is very upset and largely blames the grade on Finny's interference with his studying. He has never flunked a test before, and doing so makes him feel miserable and insecure. He even questions if he is still a good student. He decides that he will work very hard and devote himself fully to his schoolwork in order to be ready for the final exams in August. At the same time, he resents that Finny, without even trying very hard, can be such an exceptional athlete. Gene realizes that he is not only jealous of Finny, but also dislikes him.

Later in the chapter, Gene has a change of heart about Finny, deciding he has misjudged his friend. When Gene at first refuses to go to the tree and see Leper jump in order to study, Finny says that Gene is correct; studying is more important than jumping from trees. He then encourages Gene to make straight A's, telling him it is important for a person to do well at things he is good at doing. Gene now believes that Finny is genuinely supportive of his making good grades; he is suddenly torn between hating his roommate out of jealousy and admiring him for his honesty. Liking Finny wins out; therefore, Gene decides to leave his studies behind and accompany Finny to the tree.

The last part of the chapter relates Finny's fall from the tree; it is a very significant event, for it changes the entire course of his life. Arriving at the river, both Gene and Finny quickly climb the tree, with Finny, as always, in the lead. When Gene moves forward on the limb behind Finny, he shakes the branch. Finny loses his balance and falls heavily on the bank below. The whole incident happens so rapidly that no details are given. It is impossible to tell at this point in the narrative whether the fall was entirely an accident or whether Gene has caused it. It is also unknown whether Gene attempted to grab and save Finny, as Finny had previously done for him. The fact that Gene jumps in the river after Finny has fallen is an indication that he is trying to wash himself of some guilt or fear.

It is important to notice the continued colloquial tone of the novel as the narrator tells of the events that happened at Devon. Knowles succeeds in capturing teenage conversation and emotions in a very realistic manner. Additionally, he captures the conflicts in the mind of the adult Gene as he recalls and narrates incidents from his school days with a tone of repentance. Also with simplicity and very few words, Knowles describes the accident scene in a powerful way. The understatement and lack of detail are intentional and add to the suspense of the novel.

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