A Separate Peace

Discuss the tree and Phineas's desire to jump out of it and his desire for others to do the same. Why do you think he does this? What does it tell you about him?

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In Chapter One, the narrative shifts back 15 years, to Gene's days with Phineas. It is their first attempt to jump off the huge tree into the river‹, a daunting and somewhat dangerous feat that is usually reserved for senior boys. Phineas, being the daredevil, goes first‹, and Gene is the only one from the small party that he is able to persuade to follow him. They head back toward school, late for dinner; Phineas, the rebel of the two, exasperates Gene by making him really late, and then Gene gives in and decides to skip dinner altogether with his friend. Gene is normally a conservative, conformist type person, but under Phineas' potent influence, he becomes more devil-may-care and consents to break the rules with his friend.

In these first chapters, Gene is sure to set up a good, thorough characterization of Finny from the minimal events described. From the tree-jumping incident alone, we learn that Finny is a daredevil, able to wrangle others into doing things, and a bit of a devil-may-care kind of guy. Gene shows his weakness for Finny on page nine, with the tree incident illustrating perfectly how great Finny's hold on Gene is and what kinds of things Finny can persuade him to do. Finny and Gene are kindred spirits, but are also foils to each other; Finny's daredevil, rule-breaking attitude contrasts nicely with Gene's rule-abiding conservatism, and though the two are good friends, they are very different kinds of people. Gene breaks into his "West Point stride" when he is late for dinner, while Finny horses around and goes even slower; Finny is the one who gets himself into and out of trouble so easily, while Gene sits and watches it happen. The push-pull between them is already a major issue in the book in Chapter 1; and the differences, and compatibilities, between Gene and Finny, will continue to be a crucial theme within the rest of the work as well.