A Separate Peace

Contrast the personalities of Gene and Phineas


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The narrator of the book, a student at Devon during World War II. His best friend at school was Phineas, a superior athlete, while Gene was better known for his academic skills. Phineas and Gene spend a lovely summer together at Devon, which is ended when Phineas fell from a tree, an accident which Gene, either consciously or unconsciously, caused. Gene has a definite dark side lurking beneath the surface, though he appears to be a good, honest person in his everyday life. The book is spawned by a later visit to Devon, and of his strong memories and lingering feelings about what happened in 1942 at Devon.


Gene's best friend and roommate, a remarkable athlete with a disregard for the rules and an innate ability to win people over. He gets Gene in quite a bit of trouble via his impulsive nature and instinctive disobedience, but he is very good at heart, and thinks the world of his best friend. After his accident, he is unable to play sports, which crushes him; but, he decides that Gene shall take over his old place, and become the wonderful athlete that he was before he shattered his leg.

The extent of Finny's ability to charm and persuade is explored in Chapter 2, with his encounters with and triumphs over authority coming to the fore. Twice he is able to escape punishment by inventing ridiculous excuses, and using their ridiculousness to please and cheer those who are in charge. Gene furthers Finny's characterization by devoting a chapter to his misadventures and successes in winning his sour masters over; Finny, more and more, becomes the "model boy who was most comfortable in the truant's corner," and not just through Gene's recollective statements, but also through the events and ways in which Gene chooses to present Finny. Perhaps Finny was not completely the rebellious good-boy that Gene presents; after all, he is writing this from fifteen years afterward, and the narrative is tinged with memories that are a combination of emotion and fact. But, Gene decides to show Finny only at his most wily and interesting, meaning that the Finny we get to know might not be the one that Gene really knew.

In the contrast between rebellion and conformity at Devon, conformity was definitely favored; but Finny, according to Gene's account, baffled judgment and expectations by mixing elements of both. We see that Finny is able to do well in his studies and sports and be a great member of his school overall, like Gene is; he has some discipline and a definite ability to achieve, and also to fit in, as Gene does as well. Finny is Gene's foil only to the extent that he is a rebel; again, the issue of rebelliousness vs. conformity surfaces, to explain Finny and Gene's main similarity, but also their main difference.