A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7-9

Chapter 7 Summary:

Brinker Hadley decides to pay Gene a visit, and immediately starts accusing Gene of arranging Finny's accident in order to get a room to himself. Gene is naturally defensive, since the point hits close to the truth, and decides to distract Brinker by proposing they go down to the Butt Room in the basement to smoke. Once they are down there, Brinker proclaims Gene's guilt before everyone in the room, setting up a mock-trial kind of situation for Gene. The others in the room immediately start playing along, asking Gene questions about the "crime"; Gene jokingly participates, disguising his real guilt with a kind of far-fetched, sarcastic humor. He believes that none of them are actually suspicious of him after the incident, but the incident and Brinker's accusation still trouble Gene a great deal.

Fall passes, with the boys pitching in for the "war effort" by harvesting apples since all the workers have been drafted; still, the war remains distant and has little effect on their everyday lives. The first snow falls, much earlier than usual; it is a sign that war is creeping into their lives, and will become far more real to all the boys.

The school has adopted a policy of "Emergency Usefulness," meaning that the boys are sent around the region to do necessary tasks, like shoveling out the railroads after a harsh snowstorm. Before he leaves on this mission, Gene comes across Leper, who has decided to spend his day cross-country skiing rather than help work. Then, Gene and the boys catch a train to Boston, and spend a dreary, cold day at the railroad yard, shoveling; the work is hard and no one is in a particularly good mood, and takes up the whole day.

That day, the boys change their attitudes about the war; it is no longer some remote, meaningless thing, it is something that they want to get involved in as soon as they are able. When they return, they run across Leper, still on his skis; Leper says he has found the beaver dam he was looking for, which Brinker starts to tease Leper mercilessly about. Brinker says he is fed up with Devon life; he says he wants to enlist as soon as possible, which makes Gene think about doing the same thing. Gene wants a sense of purpose to his life, and feels that enlisting will give this to him; he thinks hard about it over the night.

Gene realizes that he doesn't owe anything to either Devon or to his parents anymore; the choice of whether or not to go to war depends on his own inclinations, and he wants to go through with it. But, then he goes back to his room, and finds Finny there; suddenly, what he resolved to do no longer matters, as he has a purpose to stay at Devon again.


Brinker Hadley makes his first real appearance in this chapter, and proves to be something other than our first glimpse of him suggests. "His face was all straight lines, " Gene says, "and he carriedŠhis height straight as well" (78). However, Brinker proves to be more pernicious, sarcastic, and temperamental than his straight image might suggest, and his characterization is also quite difficult to describe. Although his tone remains casual and friendly, the words coming from Brinker are not quite those of a polite conversation; immediately, Brinker starts using clearly accusatory words that contrast sharply with the light tone of voice he is trying to maintain. Brinker also slips into a condescending, superior tone; he calls Gene "my son," and spouts grandiloquent words about "our free democracy." It's hard to peg Brinker's personality down after this encounter, when he combines sinister words with a friendly tone, while infusing their interaction with a sense of Brinker's own arrogance.

Gene's guilt colors his responses, as he too is trying to maintain his innocence and not respond too seriously to Brinker's very unexpected accusations. It is not in Gene's nature to really lie, and as he tries to dodge Brinker's repeated questions, his voice becomes strained, he has to distract himself by moving books around, and his heart begins to pound. Gene even says, almost unconsciously, that "the truth will out," another remark prompted by the guilt that he is trying to hide. Gene's best defense in this situation is trying to distract Brinker with an offer to go downstairs and smoke; Gene proves himself to be very sensitive and still remorseful about what he did.

Once they get down to the Butt Room, Brinker's words intensify, and become even more accusing in his tone and choice of words. The scene Gene sets is of a dark, dilapidated room that seems like a prison; the image of the room is an oppressive one, adding to the discomfort and darkness of the scene. Brinker tosses about words like "prisoner" and calls the boys "proper authorities," and declares that Gene has committed "rankest treachery, practically fratricide" (81). The words are ironic since the whole affair is treated like a joke by most of the boys, but that Gene is actually guilty of the charges and should perhaps be facing this kind of tribunal for real. All of the boys except for one treat the little inquisition as an extended jest, and Gene has to play along, or else explode in a display of guilt, which is continuing to bother him.

Gene's defense tactics are much the same as they were against Brinker at the first; he talks around the point, tries to adopt a carefree tone, and when all of that fails, he diverts attention from the issue at hand. He decides that it is better to humiliate the one boy who takes the whole thing seriously, than draw any more attention to the debate at hand; Gene is a bit more hurtful than usual, betraying his ability to hurt people when he deems it necessary, and rationalize his actions after the fact.

The whole "inquisition" is ironic, since the boys take such interest in the mock-questioning of Gene, yet they think nothing of the truth of these accusations after Gene leaves them. No one, according to Gene, takes the logical leap of thinking that maybe Brinker is accusing Gene for a reason, and that the events being discussed actually took place, and the inquisition ends, with only Gene's own guilt to betray the fact that a "crime" actually took place.

In the ongoing struggle between war and the peace of Devon, war finally starts to intrude on the boys' daily life. "The war was at worst only a bore," as Brinker declares before the boys; but the boldness and presumption of Brinker's declaration foreshadows the change that is about to come upon them all. An early snow falls on the school, ironically seeming beautiful and peaceful, but described by Gene in a simile as "like noiseless invaders conquering" (84). Gene is right, as the coming of the snow becomes almost analogous to the coming of war to Devon; the snow becomes a symbol representing unrest and reality coming for the boys, and proves to be the "advance guard" of the war for Devon (84).

The foremost among the few who are not affected by the war is Leper, the odd, peace-loving acquaintance of Gene. Gene, upon meeting him in the woods on a snowy day, mistakes Leper for a "scarecrow," and the metaphor is actually a rather fitting one for Leper. Leper is not a person of action, nor is he particularly vital or lively like the rest of the boys; Leper prefers to remain on the periphery of things, in nature, like the scarecrow does. He seems ridiculous because he isn't the sporting, outgoing youth that is typical of Devon; he acts a bit like an old man, and seems ridiculous to his classmates. Leper is maligned because most of the boys do not try to understand his quiet, nature-loving ways, but Gene, as a more sensitive being, is able to better understand him.

The war finally intrudes with the boys' first experience with hard physical labor at the railroad depot in Boston. The once-white snow is now "drab and sooted, wet and heavy," quite a dramatic contrast with the pure white snow that had covered Devon; the image conveys how reality has become more pressing and more bleak for the boys. They gradually drop their "fresh volunteer look" as the day's work goes on; the change from boisterous young men to strained-looking laborers ushers in the influence of war, and foreshadows the change that will come upon them when they finally go to war.

The deceptive, ironic symbol of the boys' coming transformation into young soldiers is the "troop train" that passes them as they work in the railyard. The troops hanging out the windows seem just a little older than the boys, according to Gene. "They gave the impression of being elite," as Gene said, and "seemed to be having a wonderful timeŠthey were going places" (89). This becomes the face of war for the boys; they begin to think that it is some glorious, honorable thing, and get fired up to enlist and join the battle. Suddenly they feel that they are "nothing but children playing among heroic men," and this feeling shames them. That the boys appear downtrodden and the troops jubilant is ironic, since the boys are still enjoying youthful days in school, and are not about to face death like the troops are. Also, the boys' new view of war is ironic because of how unrealistic it is; they take the fresh recruits to be a symbol of the entire war, when the war is grim and bloody, and will change them into worn young men.

The boys are still very naïve about the war; they speak about "brothers in the service and requirements for enlistment and the futility of Devon" during their train ride home, but no war issues of real significance (89). Quackenbush, who is probably more realistic than the rest of them about needing to get a high school diploma and not just rush into the war, is attacked by the other boys in their jingoistic fit; Brinker and the others think that the only right way is to enlist immediately and rush off to the glorious war, and are too young and blind to consider that they might not be correct. Gene colors Brinker's declaration that he will enlist tomorrow as the "logical climax of the whole misbegotten day"; but it is a misguided decision, as the boys, in their sheltered environment, still do not understand the realities of war that they think they have learned everything about from seeing that train full of fresh, untried recruits.

Gene explains his feelings about enlisting with a metaphor relating his life to a woven cloth and a group of jumbled threads that he wants to be free of; he wishes to take "giant military shears" and just cut himself free from his history, so that he can start all over again. It's not that Gene particularly wants to go to war, he just wants a fresh start, and to escape from the stale, constrictive atmosphere of the school; the boys all want the same thing as well, and their main motivation to enlist is this wish to escape, rather than a wish to go into battle.

Gradually, Gene's motivation for making Finny fall from the tree become more and more evident. Gene is unable to set down the reasons why he did what he did, but gradually, he does add little pieces of information to the confession that he is unable to state all at once. Here, he says that he is "used to finding something deadly in the things that attracted [him]," which is why he caused Finny's accident. If this confession is actually true, then it means that Gene, in hurting Finny, was aware that something worse might happen than Finny breaking his leg; if so, then Gene's character is darker than even he would like to admit.

Gene observes the "single, chilled points of light" in the sky, trying to find guidance in them; what he sees is not beautiful or ideal, and he tries his best not to have an optimistic view of war like the others. He takes the cold, remote looking stars as symbols for the war, and ascribes their qualities to the war as well. Even with his thoughts becoming more grounded and informed, he thinks of his duty for the war effort; but the image of the "thin yellow slab of brightness" that heralds Finny's arrival drowns out the cold pinpricks in the sky, and Gene chooses his friend over the war. The only thing holding him back from enlistment is Finny, who turns up at a very convenient time, and gives Gene his only reason to stay at Devon.

Chapter 8 Summary:

Gene is absolutely shocked at Finny's sudden, unannounced return; Finny proves to be his old self again, despite his bum leg, by making wisecracks immediately and expressing his distaste for Gene's work clothes. Finny looks very well and athletic again, completely unlike his small, invalid-like appearance at his home in Boston just a few weeks earlier. Gene helps Finny make up his bed, since there are no maids at the school that year, and notes how Finny is completely dignified and doesn't seem helpless in any way, although he does need Gene's assistance for some things.

Gene is happy that Finny is finally back; however, he can't simply ignore what he did to his friend since Finny is there as a constant reminder, and Gene lets himself be eaten away by his guilt and remorse, rather than try to face his feelings. Brinker busts into their room in the morning, shocked to see Finny there; he uses the opportunity to reintroduce insinuations about Gene causing Finny's accident, but Finny doesn't want to think about it and deliberately doesn't take the hints. Gene brushes the uncomfortable situation aside by talking about enlisting, which Brinker is absolutely gung-ho about. Finny is not pleased at all with the idea that Gene could leave; he doesn't want Gene to do it, and makes this clear to Gene.

Gene immediately brushes aside any talk of him enlisting by saying it would be nuts of him to do it, and he wouldn't enlist with Brinker for anything. This makes Finny very happy, though it's not the truth, and Gene still wants, though not as passionately as before his friend came back, to join the military in order to get a fresh start. Gene is relieved to find that Devon is suddenly a good, peaceful place again with his friend back and no more pressure to enlist, but he knows in retrospect that it will not last.

Finny decides not to go to class on his first day back; Gene is a little dismayed by his suggestion that neither go to class, but he goes with Finny anyway, to the gym. Finny asks Gene what sports he's been doing, and Gene confesses that he hasn't held up his end of the bargain, and is not doing any sports at the moment. This gets Finny upset, and then Gene tries to make the war into some excuse for not trying out for anything. Finny goes off on a rant about how the war is not real, it was just designed to keep people in their place, and from having any real fun. Gene doesn't believe him at all, and asks him why Finny thinks he knows all this stuff that nobody else does; Finny then says "because I've suffered," opening another big, painful can of worms (109).

Gene takes this as a cue to start working out, doing more chin-ups than he's done in his lifetime. Finny and Gene never talk about Finny's little streak of bitterness again, and it never resurfaces in Finny. Finny, with his usual disregard for reality, says he wants to coach Gene for the 1944 Olympics; Gene knows there won't be any because of the war, but of course Finny wouldn't listen. Gene begins to see how unrealistic some people's view of the war is, especially with the teachers and headmasters; he doesn't believe Finny's desperate assertions that there isn't any war at all, but he also learns to be a little more skeptical of the manipulative claims of the authority figures.

Gene and Finny keep training, doing long runs in the morning; Gene thinks he can't do them, until one morning he just amazes himself and it comes naturally to him, just as it did with Finny before. Mr. Ludsbury, one of the teachers, discovers them at their morning exercise; he tells them to keep it up as some kind of preparation for the war, and Finny just blows up at him, telling him it has nothing to do with that. Mr. Ludsbury turns red, gets angry, and stomps off; Finny has no remorse for angering the man, though Gene feels somewhat strange about what happened.


Finny's appearance when Gene first sees him is completely deceptive; although he appears to be in the peak of health, no different from how he was before he left after the summer. Gene's words reflect this athletic quality that he believes his friend still has; Finny "vaulted" across the room, uses his crutches like "parallel bars," and his eyes are sharp and alert (96). It is only later that Gene will figure out that Finny is changed, and that this healthy disguise must have been put on in order to convince his parents and his doctor to let him go back to Devon early.

Finny and Gene, though their relationship has become more close, have become different personally, especially Gene. Gene has gone back to his old ways, as a law-abiding, tradition-following student. Although he thinks of himself as a bit of a rebel while Finny is away, one Finny is returned, Gene is completely conventional, with his talk of duty and the war and self-sacrifice. Gene almost sounds like one of the teachers in his patriotic reverie, and Finny gives him hell for it‹Finny knows that Gene slips in to this kind of conventional thinking very easily, and he'll have to fight to get Gene to be a less responsible, more interesting companion. Gene is very serious‹he thinks it's fine that they have no maids, while Finny is stubborn, selfish, and quite humorous in insisting that he have the convenience of maids, and that the war is just an excuse. Gene is already becoming an adult, mirroring the sentiments of his teachers, while Finny is still a rebellious adolescent, with views that are often contrary to Gene's.

Although Finny is injured and needs help, he manages to retain his dignity around Gene, even when he needs assistance. Around others, like Brinker for example, he stubbornly refuses to admit his limitations and will accept no help; but he and Gene seem to have some kind of silent agreement, that Gene will watch Finny and help out where he can, and that it will be a natural part of their relationship. A new kind of sensitivity marks their relationship that wasn't there over the summer; Finny is sure to keep quiet while Gene says his prayers, Gene makes up the bed for Finny, who doesn't ask for help but definitely needs it. Still, not everything is smoothed over for Gene, who is still dogged by guilt, and has a few identity issues to contend with.

Gene may be energized by Finny's return, but he enjoys himself less after Finny returns because of the constant reminder of guilt that Finny is for Gene. "Each morning reasserted the problems of the night before," says Gene; previous, it was easy for him to deny what had happened, and now he does not have that luxury. This feeling is not necessarily a negative one, as Gene believes it to be; it is a part of Gene coming to terms with his darker nature, which he will try desperately not to do.

Brinker's nature certainly seems more questionable in this chapter than it was after his introduction. Seeing Finny is back, he immediately brings up Gene's "little plot" to keep a room to himself by hurting Finny; it is hardly a tactful thing to say, and is taking the joke of the day before much too far. That Brinker is willing to bring the whole subject up again, in front of both of them, means that he believes there is some truth in the matter. But why Brinker would think that Gene was guilty of harming Finny, when he wasn't present when the accident happened and no one else thinks badly of Gene, is quite a mystery. Perhaps Brinker is meant to be some kind of conscience figure, with his goading of Gene and determination to enlist.

Finny, for his part, does not even attempt to consider what Brinker means by his not-so-subtle insinuations, and Gene wants nothing more than to silence the whole issue. It seems that Finny decided to be finished with the whole issue after Gene confessed. Finny didn't want to believe that his friend had done it when Gene's guilt was first confessed, and he's well past the point of considering anything negative about his friend, especially now that they need each other. Gene realizes for the first time that Finny needs him, and him in particular; in the summer, it seemed that Finny only needed someone to follow his whims and crazy ideas, but now their attachment to each other cannot be denied, and it makes Gene nervous because he knows how much he callously took away from Finny.

"Peace had come back to Devon," Gene says, after Finny had returned. For a while, the struggle between war and peace is temporarily won by peace; and for a short time, Gene also forgets about his ideas of enlisting and enjoys his time at the school with his friend. Gene is still fighting, however, with his feelings about the accident, and about himself; perhaps he wanted to go to war so that he could be distracted by that external battle, and not have to concentrate on his own. Gene is a reflective, very self-conscious, and sensitive person; here there is really a glimpse of how sensitive Gene is, and how much of a lasting effect that events really have on him, especially since his feelings are so keen fifteen years after the fact.

Even Gene admits, however, that the peace he is feeling cannot last. In an extended metaphor that he carries throughout a paragraph, he describes the war as a "wave at the seashore," that looked intimidating as it grew larger and came closer to him. But, with Finny by his side, he was able to kept from being swept away, while "throwing others roughly up upon the beach" (101). But there is a great sense of foreboding inherent in the metaphor; where there is one huge wave, there is usually another at least as big to follow it. What that "wave" will be is not yet evident; but Gene is obviously setting the scene for an even bigger shake-up to occur, and building toward the climax of the novel.

Of course, Gene is skeptical of Finny's more outlandish ideas, such as Finny's fervent belief that the war is a gimmick meant to keep the masses in line while the fat cats enjoy everything. But Finny's harebrained theories also open Gene's eyes to many realizations, like how the war is exploited by the headmasters to make the boys disciplined and to get them to work harder. As much as Gene tries to shake off Finny's little rebellious notions and insist that he only just goes along with them silently, Gene is really and truly helped by Finny and his perceptions of the world‹though he might not like to admit it.

Inevitably, Gene and Finny become closer to being almost the same person. As Gene begins to improve himself physically, under Finny's tutelage, Gene helps Finny to become a much better student. Since Finny has been robbed of his athletic gifts, Gene is helping him to develop new ones. Finny's encouragement helps Gene to do things that were never physically possible for him before‹like doing 30 chin-ups and a few miles of running in the morning. Gene feels like he has achieved this mostly by himself, but without Finny right there, none of that would have been possible. It is true that Gene has become even more different from Finny since Finny has been away, but there is definitely something to be said about how the two boys are beginning to resemble each other more and more.

The outdoors, which usually reflect the course of their relationship, becomes more placid and beautiful as the boys settle into their new routine with ease. Gene describes images of the "northern sunshine" on the smooth stretches of white snow, that suggest something like their idyllic summer; but, at the same time, these images reinforce how the relationship cannot be the same as it was, though it can thrive for a while.

Chapter 9 Summary:

Gene becomes more and more oblivious to the outside world as he spends time with Finny. The impossible happens with Leper, as he is convinced by a video of American ski troops that he must enlist and become one of them. He changes his mind on the uselessness of downhill skiing, and decides that fast skiing is fine if you are in a real hurry, which a person is when they are fighting the war. The video shows a bunch of placid, attractive young men skiing down slopes and passes it off as being part of the war effort; the image reflects nothing like the real realities of war, but nevertheless, Leper is completely hooked by it. Leper leaves a week later, before his 18th birthday, enlisted in the ski troops and perfectly happy to go.

Leper becomes a rather unbelievable symbol of the events of the war for them; he is the fantastic liason between them and the newspaper reports they read everyday, a kind of window into the war that is no more realistic than the patriotic, glossed-over views they previously held. Phineas, strangely, draws away from his friends because of their ongoing fascination with Leper's alleged adventures in the war. Gene describes how Finny stops visiting the Butt Room, where the group usually gets together to discuss "Leper's" exploits, and he tries to draw Gene away with him, into Finny's little world where war and enlistment do not exist.

Gene begins to loathe the long weekends at school, when the cold and the snow prevent excursions, and sports are mostly out of the question. Finny decides to organize the first winter carnival at Devon, so that there's something fun to do outside. Gene is persuaded, then manages to get the newly-rebellious Brinker in on their plans.

The Saturday of the carnival comes, and the day is cold and very gray. Brinker has obtained some hard cider, snow sculptures have been made, and a heavy table with prizes on it are all set up; some boys have even beat a little ski ramp out of the snow. Finny or Brinker are supposed to preside over the festivities, but the boys suddenly go mad, rushing for the cider and becoming rather unruly for the first time that winter. Finny declares the games open, with a torch made of a flaming copy of The Illiad. Finny is definitely cheered up by the whole little festival, and the other boys are very pleased, full of cider and happy for the break.

Then, a telegram comes for them from Leper; he says he has "escaped," and needs them to meet him and help to bail him out of whatever trouble he is in. Finny and Gene are absolutely shocked that their friend has deserted, and are determined to meet him and help him out.


Leper's change of heart in this chapter shows how things can change, and people can change, with the right kind of impetus behind them. When the boy least likely to go to war is the first of the class to enlist in the service, it makes a big impression on Gene. Leper makes the point that "everything has to evolve or else it perishes," and this point makes Gene think of how this peace carried over from the summer could change, or how he will be forced to change in order to get by (117). This one line from Leper is delivered in such a decisive, dramatic way that it jumps out of the prose, and seems to be introducing an important new thread in the book. Perhaps it foreshadows a change that Gene will have to make great adjustments to get through, and taken with the metaphor of the wave about to sweep over him, these two moments in the prose mean that something is definitely about to happen.

Still, that Leper is persuaded by a glossy kind of video reinforces how "artificial," as Gene has said, that any news of the war that has reached the boys had been. Leper joins, thinking that he is going to be part of that ideal, happy picture of the men skiing downhill; what he doesn't look for is what relation any of this has to war, and any possibility that he may be called upon to perform some rather unpleasant tasks. Gene, at this time, is so out of reality that he can hardly comment on the state of naivete that most of the boys still exist in, and seems to believe in the idyllic picture he is being shown rather than questioning it.

In a rather remarkable way, Leper becomes more important and is taken more seriously by the boys once he has left and gone to war. He is a symbol of the heroism and interesting deeds of war, a representation of all the brave and wonderful successes of the American troops. Their support of "Leper" is another way to show patriotism and feel involved in the war, without having to face the harsh realities involved in the real events.

Again, Gene is afraid of the parts of himself with which he is not familiar, but which he suspects might exist. Gene is still slow to attempt any self-examination, for fear of what he might find; he states that he is afraid he will expose himself to be "the Sad Sack, the outcast, or the coward," with no mention of his more sinister aspects, which he knows to exist. It is possible that these sides to Gene really do exist, and will come out under the duress of war; but Gene's reluctance to face anything unpleasant in himself might mean that he denies these things too, and continues on in his self-ignorance.

Finny is also undergoing his first major transformation in the book; he becomes more and more dependent on Gene, and withdraws from his friends because of their insistence on talking about the war and about "Leper," the war's unlikely symbol. Something is happening inside Finny; perhaps the suffering he has admitted to feeling is dragging him down, perhaps he is silently becoming bitter about his injury and pain.

Just as Finny becomes more and more withdrawn, his usual jovial theories and insistence on living in his own world become more unhealthy, as Finny begins to live in a great sense of denial. Finny refuses to hear anything related to the war, when before he merely jokes such talk aside, and he stubbornly insists that Leper is still around, or that he's gone off into nature to explore. Brinker also undergoes a change, losing all his determination to march on to war because he cannot find anyone else who is willing to go. He resigns every post he holds on campus, as one of the foremost figures of the school; both he and Finny pretty much stop doing anything around campus, as the school loses more people than just Leper, although the others are still on campus.

As usual, the weather, which is the main indicator and symbol of the general mood on campus, reflects the change that has come over several of the boys. The images of the outdoors become very bleak, depressed, and are conquered by the winter; with "every sprig of vitality snapped" around them, the boys, like Brinker and Finny, become similarly depressed and inactive. The weather seems either to be sympathetic to the boys' moods, or to make a great impression on their feelings.