A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace Summary and Analysis of Chapters 12-13

Chapter 12 Summary:

The others rush out to help Finny; someone goes to fetch Mr. Stanpole, and someone else gets Phil Latham, the wrestling coach, who helps Finny until the doctor can arrive. Dr. Stanpole finally gets there, and Finny is carried to the infirmary in a chair. Finny is put into Dr. Stanpole's car, and a crowd gathers around, with Gene well at the back. Gene is told to go back to his dorm, but he wants to see how Finny is; he follows Dr. Stanpole's car to the infirmary, and scouts out the room he believes Finny to be in. He waits until everyone is gone from Finny's room, then opens Finny's window and pulls himself inside. Finny is angry at Gene, and falls out of his bed while trying to get up and come at him; Gene says he's sorry, and leaves, walking back depressed.

Rather than going home, Gene walks around the stadium and the gym; he is in a strange sort of reverie, where he feels like a spirit, and everything around him is vibrant and full of meaning. The next morning, he gets a note to take some of Finny's things to the infirmary; he is worried because he doesn't know what to say to Finny, and is saddened by having to live through this situation again.

Gene goes to the infirmary, and Finny is very different from the night before; he is crying and his hands are unsteady, and he asks Gene if he had made him fall out of the tree because Gene hated him. Gene reassures him that it was some blind unexplainable thing that made him do it, and it had nothing to do with hate or any ill-will against Finny. Finny says he believes Gene, and they finally reach closure with that issue.

When Gene returns to the Infirmary to see Finny after his operation, he meets Dr. Stanpole. Dr. Stanpole sits him down and tells him that Finny died during the operation. Gene is too shocked to even think about it, and cannot cry because he feels like he died too, along with his friend.


The scene after Finny's accident is very odd; with no mention of him either speaking or moving, it is like he is already dead. This is the final break between Finny and Gene; Gene stays at the edge of the crowd while Finny is in the center, and there doesn't seem to be any contact between them, or any recognition on Finny's part either. Gene notes a difference in Finny's look too; he says the sight of Finny being carried off is like that of "some tragic and exalted personage, a stricken pontiff." Finny's position is finally reversed, as he truly becomes helpless, and his friend is too shocked to step in and help him out. This comparison does not bode well for Finny's recovery; in Gene's language, there is a sense that things are coming to an end that foreshadows Finny's fate.

Too late, Gene finally realizes that Finny believed him to be "an extension of himself" (171). Gene never came close to extending the same kind of regard to Finny that Finny had to him; Gene finally has to realize how he failed his friend, and how his jealousies impeded a true friendship between them. Finny and Gene seem to be giving each other up here; it is one of the few times since Finny's return that the two have allowed themselves to be separated.

This is the first time that Gene has been seen in a real crisis situation, and his way of dealing with it is to think of as many funny things as he can. He suddenly concocts jokes to the things he believes that Dr. Stanpole and Phil Latham would say to Finny, then creates some amusing scenario around all of them. It is hardly the time to be devoting his thought-power to such trivial things, but it helps him to keep his mind off how serious Finny's condition might be, and how Finny might regard him after this second accident. Gene laughs himself to tears as a coping mechanism, because it is easier to fill himself with fake happiness than to deal with the events that are going on around him.

Gene and Finny's separation is made complete by Finny's anger against Gene. Finny is not one to get angry, but this anger serves as a final rejection of Gene, and a logical reaction to a person who has hurt him so badly. Gene, also uncharacteristically, lets Finny get himself up after he falls; in the Gene/ Finny relationship of old, Gene would have automatically gone to help, and Finny would have let him.

From Gene's reaction after seeing Finny at the infirmary, it seems that Gene is already mourning the passing of his friend. He goes around to all of their usual spots, recalling their significance in their relationship; he seems like he is in shock, going past the gym and declaring that it had " a significance much deeper and far more real than I had noticed before" (177). Even the trees around him become "intensely meaningful," and seem as if they would tell him something "very pressing and entirely undecipherable" (177). Gene's language makes a familiar landscape entirely strange and luminescent; he says that he is like a ghost, in a very interesting metaphor, in surroundings that are "intensely real" (178). Gene has already said goodbye to Devon, and to the memories included in his surroundings; he is mourning things before they are lost to him, and it is almost like he knows that Finny will soon die. This walk makes sense when Finny's demise is considered; it seems like a logical reaction to the death, but instead is an act of foreknowledge, a bit of foreshadowing of significant events to come.

Finny's confession that he denied the war because he couldn't get involved is something that Gene never even considered before. It is interesting that Finny blocked it out because it was the one thing he couldn't be involved in if he tried; he is so used to being able to get involved in anything that he chooses, that he cannot bear it when there is something he definitely cannot do. But, it was providence that Finny did break his leg, as Gene makes him see; as the kind of person who doesn't recognize teams or sides, who feels free to change alliances for no reason and likes the kind of game where it is him against everybody, he just couldn't grasp the philosophy behind war.

It is good that Finny and Gene come to some sort of reconciliation at that point. Finny forgives Gene for the first time, since he only just stopped denying Gene's responsibility. There is closure in Gene's statements about not hurting Finny out of anything conscious or out of hate, and Finny saying that he believes Gene. When Gene said "this is it" about meeting Finny this time, he knew that they would have to close the issue somehow; with that statement, he foreshadowed his and Finny's reconciliation, and also that something big and final, like Finny's death, was about to happen.

Gene's ability to recall all of the events of the day of Finny's death is very significant; it is like that whole day is frozen in time, and his discussing it in such detail is almost like he is reliving it. This is the only time in the whole book when Gene talks about a meal he had at school, the conversation over the meal in the dining hall, and what he did, hour by hour, on one school day. He talks about his class schedule, where he was when and what he did during that time, and evokes, for the first time in the book, what an ordinary day was like at Devon.

That he recalls everything in such detail before he finds out about Finny's death is strange, because it is almost like he knows about it from the night before, when Gene started to recall things in incredible detail. Otherwise, he would have had to go back in his memory and tack down everything that had happened that day, if he could remember, after he found out about Finny. Either way, it is quite different from how most people remember significant moments; as Brinker says, when he saw a child he knew get hit by a car, he can remember the surroundings, the feel, and the details surrounding that moment. But it is not as if Brinker can recall what he had to eat before it happened, what time he woke up that day, and everything that had happened up until that moment; for most people, the moment in which they hear such news is very vivid, and sticks in their memory. But for Gene, the vivid moments are concluded, when he actually hears the news about Finny's death.

It seems that Gene only really appreciates what Finny was to him when Finny dies. Finny had thought of Gene as an extension of himself, but it is only after Finny's death that Gene feels it is his own death too. Finny was the sort of person who appreciated people, like Gene, for what they were to him, and felt free to tell them their significance. Gene, however, wasn't even able to acknowledge what Finny was to him until it was too late, and Finny was already lost. This recalls Finny telling Gene that he was his best friend, and Gene not being able to say the same thing; Gene is unable to search his feelings and come up with the same conclusion as Finny.

Finny is a casualty of war, without ever having been involved in battle. Brinker says this, and Dr. Stanpole reiterates it; but it is not the same kind of war that Finny is really a victim of. He is a victim of a sort of internal war, against yourself, that lashes out against others. Gene hurt Finny because his jealousy and carelessness and his "savage" nature took control of him; Gene didn't hurt himself in trying to get his good nature to win out over the bad, someone innocent was harmed in this struggle. Just as Finny is a victim of Gene's war, so many people turned out to be victims of someone else's war too; perhaps this is why Dr. Stanpole and Brinker see Finny as a war casualty, because his situation is very similar to theirs.

Chapter 13 Summary:

It is June, and Devon gives use of the Far Common to the war effort. Brinker and Gene watch the troops and jeeps and equipment being brought in, for a Parachute Rigger's School being made there; Brinker brings up Leper, which Gene tells him not to talk about. Gene says that no one blames him for what happened to Finny, although he blames himself.

Gene is introduced to Brinker's dad, and says that he has joined the Navy. Brinker has joined the Coast Guard, probably part of his scheme to stay out of battle. Brinker's dad is very gung-ho about the military, and gives the boys a speech about having a good military record, and how people will respect them based on what they did for the war. Brinker obviously doesn't agree.

Gene then talks about Finny, and his experience in the war; how Finny was the only person he knew whose character was safe from being corrupted by the war, and how his friendship with Finny prepared him for his own experience. In lieu of Finny, he has finally adopted Finny's way of looking at things, and some of Finny's personality and rebelliousness. Finny means a lot to him and still influences him, and Gene is finally able to appreciate his friend for all that he was, and make peace with him.


War finally, and literally, takes over Devon; it has arrived, and Gene is more than ready to leave. The campus becomes unrecognizable to him, with all the military gear; since the peace of the summer before is completely dead and definitely a thing of the past, it is easy for him to say goodbye to it and continue on to his adult life. The other symbol of his carefree youth was Finny, and he died just as his glorious summer was about to disappear forever because of the war; Gene has nothing left to cling to of his childhood, so it is time for him to go.

Would Gene have been able to go off to war, and would war have been able to encroach upon Devon, if Finny was still there? The war would have necessarily divided Finny and Gene, since Gene could serve and Finny could not; their old friendship would have ended anyway, and Gene would finally be taken over by order and discipline, and severed from his old friend's rebelliousness.

However, Finny doesn't really die in Gene; as Gene says, "Phineas created an atmosphere in which I continued now to live," and he takes up Finny's way of looking at the world and choosing what to accept and what to let go. Because Finny is gone, Gene does have to let some of Finny's spirit reside in him.

The general explanation for Leper's change comes out in one of the book's closing paragraphs. Gene speaks about how everyone "at some point found something in themselves pitted violently against something in the world around them" (194). And, as a result of this overwhelming conflict with some great force, "the simplicity and unity of their characters broke and they were not the same again." Certainly, Leper is an example of this theory in action, though his description of his struggle wasn't nearly as coherent or simply put. But, does this same thing happen to Gene? It is not clear; though Gene has been through a great deal, with his relationship with Finny and Finny's death as well, it seems like he has adopted some of the coping mechanisms that Finny had, and is not as touched by this kind of struggle. For a time, though, Finny's death is the force that floors him; maybe he is not exactly the same after this happens, though Gene tries his best to say that Finny lives in him, so he will get by okay.

But, at the same time, Gene admits that he had broken Finny's "harmonious and natural unity"; if Finny too had lost this, can Gene ever hope to retain it? And what does this mean about Gene? He has given various explanations in the book for hurting Finny‹from it being a blind impulse in him, to it being an attempt to win out over his friend, to the accident being the sole product of some dark side that he has. Are any of these really the truth? Indeed, Gene seems reluctant to speak directly and honestly about the accident, and say definitively what his motivation was and why. And maybe this isn't something Gene will ever know; as he admits in the book, there are a great number of things that he doesn't know about himself, that he would like to never find out. This could be one of them, and could be the reason why Gene admits fault for the accident, but won't really search within himself for why he did it. But, if Finny and Gene also let the incident rest, then Gene might feel this is a good enough reason to let the past alone, and not experience the pain all over again.

One of the final lessons, that Gene goes into on the last page, is how futile hate and fear both are; he cites Mr. Ludsbury, Brinker, and Leper as being misguided and losing a great deal in citing their own enemies and trying their best to defend against them. Gene says he has already killed his own enemy, and therefore has gotten rid of his hate and his fear. Gene's enemy must have been himself, or at least the part of himself that was so quick to lash out and hurt other people. He believes that he has buried his darker side, and from what the reader can tell, maybe he has. Hopefully Finny's influence is as strong with him as he insists, and he will never again let himself slip into carelessly harming someone who is almost part of himself.