A Separate Peace

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Phineas ("Finny") Character Analysis

Gene's best friend and classmate at the Devon School. Finny is an extraordinarily talented athlete and a charismatic student leader who's earned the respect and admiration of the entire student body. Finny's freewheeling behavior often gets him into trouble, but his charming ways save him from every potential disciplinary snag. Finny's general outlook and demeanor is forgiving and optimistic, which contrasts with Gene's more cautious and rational approach to life. In fact, while Gene feels an intense rivalry with Finny, Finny shares none of Gene's competitive feelings. Instead, Finny assumes innocently and arrogantly that Gene and everyone else must share his carefree approach to life. One of the novel's central unanswered questions is whether Finny's naïve self-centeredness makes him deserving of Gene's resentment. Another mystery of A Separate Peace is whether the often idealized, or even angelic, portrayal of Finny rendered by Gene reflects the truth about Finny's character or rather Gene's unresolved guilt over Finny's death.

Phineas ("Finny") Quotes in A Separate Peace

The A Separate Peace quotes below are all either spoken by Phineas ("Finny") or refer to Phineas ("Finny"). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of A Separate Peace published in 2003.
Chapter 2 Quotes
"I think we reminded them of what peace was like, we boys of sixteen....We were careless and wild, and I suppose we could be thought of as a sign of the life the war was being fought to preserve....Phineas was the essence of this careless peace."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of the novel's flashback, Gene and his best friend Phineas are sixteen-year-old students at Dover, who are busy engaging in reckless, spontaneous activities during their school's Summer Session -- all at Phineas' urging. Phineas, with his spontaneous attitudes, easy charm, and impressive athletic abilities, leads the other students in endeavors that often just cross the line and are not allowed or inappropriate. Although Phineas should be reprimanded, according to the prep school's regulations, faculty are more than likely to let one of Phineas's endeavors go unpunished, especially when Phineas provides a charismatic reason for his venture. From his mature perspective, Gene the narrator understands that the faculty allowed such behavior because it symbolized the less complicated, freer times before World War II broke out. Gene no longer views Phineas with such envy; instead of becoming subconsciously irritated that Phineas is allowed to break every rule, the elder, narrator-Gene now more sympathetically understands the broader social issues that inspire the faculty to such lenience. The contrast between sixteen-year-old Gene and the narrator suggests that Gene's envy and sense of rivalry might intensify as such favor continues.

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Chapter 3 Quotes
"To keep silent about this amazing happening deepened the shock for me. It made Finny seem too unusual for—not friendship, but too unusual for rivalry. And there were few relationships among us at Devon not based on rivalry."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Related Symbols: The Devon School
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

Phineas -- who was known as Finny to his friend Gene -- breaks a school record for 100 Yards Free Style (without practicing for this endeavor) while only Gene is watching him swim in the pool. Yet, Phineas does not want to add to his impressive list of athletic prizes by repeating this feat with a more public audience. He asks Gene to keep it "just between you and me," inspiring Gene to wonder about his friend's motives. Gene considers that Phineas might want to impress him, or that Phineas might simply be above rivalry. For an individual as competitive as sixteen-year-old Gene (and all his competitive, jealous peers at the Devon School), this must be a frustrating possibility. Phineas was not only one of the best students, but he seemed to live in a wholly separate existence above all of his peers. 

Chapter 4 Quotes
"I found a single sustaining thought. The thought was, You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity. You are both coldly driving ahead for yourselves alone....I felt better. We were even after all, even in enmity. The deadly rivalry was on both sides after all."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

After Phineas beats the school record in the 100 Yard Free Style, he takes Gene to the beach and they stay there overnight. Gene barely arrives back at school in time for his Trigonometry test in the morning, which becomes the first test which he flunks.

After this occurs, Gene believes he understands the motivation behind Phineas advocating such reckless activities all summer: Phineas is (supposedly) attempting to sabotage Gene's academic achievement at Devon. Gene takes this rationale as evidence for Phineas's competitiveness, and convinces himself that Phineas is just as competitive as Gene is. Therefore, Phineas and Gene are "even in enmity"; Phineas is just as morally questionable as Gene is. Although Gene is here stating that he and Phineas are equal, this thought underscores Gene's competitive spirit; he does not want to recognize the way that Phineas is morally superior to him and above his competitive, jealous perspective.

"He had never been jealous of me for a second. Now I knew that there never was and never could have been any rivalry between us. I was not of the same quality as he."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
After Phineas announces that another student, Leper, will leap down the tree tonight, in order to join their club of reckless behavior (which Phineas dubbed the "Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session"), Gene finally tells Phineas that he does not wish to attend. After withholding his resentment and anger for so long, Gene angrily tells Phineas that he will "ruin my grade" if he goes tonight instead of studying. Phineas is "interested, surprised"; he had no idea that Gene felt that such endeavors would sacrifice his grades. So, Gene's theory (that Phineas invented such careless exploits in order to prevent Gene from studying) was completely false, and Gene must once again face the reality that Phineas seems oddly innocent and free from the jealousy that tortures Gene.
"Holding firmly to the trunk, I took a step toward him, and then my knees bent and I jounced the limb. Finny, his balance gone, swung his head around to look at me for an instant with extreme interest, and then he tumbled sideways, broke through the little branches below and hit the bank with a sickening, unnatural thud. It was the first clumsy physical action I had ever seen him make. With unthinking sureness I moved out on the limb and jumped into the river, every trace of my fear of this forgotten."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Related Symbols: Fall (Autumn) and Finny's Fall
Page Number: 59-60
Explanation and Analysis:

These small, seemingly insignificant physical movements -- bending a knee, swinging a head -- constitute the climax and narrative core of the entire novel. Thy do not conclusively establish Gene's guilt, but they certainly allow us to see why Gene might be guilty: his knees bent, but it was Gene himself ("I") who  actually "jounced" the limb, causing Phineas to look at his best friend with "extreme interest" before a sickening fall. Phineas here makes the "first clumsy physical action" that Gene sees him make, reminding us of the way that Phineas's night beach adventure made Gene fail his first exam. It is noticeable that once Phineas falls, Gene finally jumps from the tree limb without fear; he almost seems to replace Phineas with this athletic action and new carefree attitude -- free from jealousy, that is. This already suggests that the idealized character of Phineas which has so affected the novel thus far, and brought the entire community at Devon under his charm, is already gone.

Chapter 6 Quotes
"'Listen, pal, if I can't play sports, you're going to play them for me,' and I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become a part of Phineas.
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny") (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

After Phineas's fall, he still considers Gene a "pal," and his enduring absence of rivalry and jealousy is revealed when Phineas encourages Gene to play sports "for him." With these words, Phineas almost seems to advocate that Gene should take his place -- a sentiment that Gene latches onto as well. Of course, the bookish, less-athletic Gene cannot truly act in Phineas's stead. He can, however, feel that same "soaring sense of freedom" that threaded all of Phineas's actions. Gene takes some comfort in the thought that his "purpose" was to replace Phineas, subsuming his own identity into that of the friend he so loves and hates. Throughout the novel, Gene questions his own motivations during the fateful tree scene. Did Gene intend to have such a malicious consequence of his actions, or was his behavior accidental? These are the sorts of possibilities soldiers on the spontaneous, frenetic environment of the battlefield encounter as well -- where a single movement or a single confused second can have life-changing consequences.

Chapter 8 Quotes
"So the war swept over like a wave at the seashore, gathering power and size as it bore on us, overwhelming in its rush, seemingly inescapable, and then at the last moment eluded by a word from Phineas; I had simply ducked, that was all, and the wave's concentrated power had hurtled harmlessly overhead."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Gene has just had an invigorating day, shoveling snow off the railroads along with other classmates and viewing a train of men dressed for war pass by thanks to his work. Inspired by his classmate Brinker's passion for enlisting, and the night sky which is pulsing overhead with possibilities, Gene decides to enlist, to spontaneously join the communal war effort and remake his life. Yet, when he returns, he finds Phineas -- the constant reminder of his prior transgressions and confused identity -- in his bedroom. Phineas is dazed and surprised, and he clearly hopes that Gene will not enlist and leave him. So because of Phineas, Gene's quixotic, momentary dream of becoming a soldier and leaving his life as a student behind becomes an impossibility. The powerful possibilities of enlisting pass Gene by in an unsettling way, though he also realizes that the war cannot be avoided forever.

Chapter 9 Quotes
"It wasn't the cider which made me surpass myself, it was this liberation we had torn from the gray encroachments of 1943, the escape we had concocted, this afternoon of momentary, illusory, special and separate peace."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny"), Brinker Hadley, Brownie Perkins
Page Number: 136-137
Explanation and Analysis:

During one Saturday afternoon, which is typically the most lonesome time at a boys' school such as Dover, according to Gene, Gene and his classmates hold a winter carnival (inspired by Phineas, whose stream of ideas has been slower of late). Stimulated by cider, a general awareness that they may be breaking school rules, and the fact that they are definitely creating a fictitious celebration, they engage in revelry, making a sort of "momentary, illusory, special and separate peace." We know that this peace specifically contrasts with the harsh reality of World War II, because this carnival ends when Gene receives a letter from Leper, who was the first boy at Devon to enlist in the war. Leper's tense, terse note begs Gene to visit him at his "Christmas location" (without giving a genuine address or a genuine reason), returning the narrative to the cold realism of the winter of 1943.

Chapter 12 Quotes
"'You'd get things so scrambled up nobody would know who to fight any more. You'd make a mess, a terrible mess, Finny, out of the war.'"
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

As the boys hold a makeshift court session to investigate the cause of Phineas's fall from the tree, Phineas grows agitated and storms out, down the hall and falling down the marble stairs, from where all of the boys involved in the meeting can hear his accident. When Gene visits Phineas afterwards, Phineas says he cannot mentally take being an invalid while there's a war on -- living in "separate peace" because he cannot serve his country. Gene, however, rightly tells Phineas that he would "make a mess out of the war": because of his inherent goodness, Phineas would likely engage in behaviors as nonsensical as befriending the enemy.

With this characterization, Gene implies that school boys who engage in petty rivalries would be good at the war, used to feelings of guilt and skilled at the task of ruining others' lives. It's boys like Phineas (or, in another sense, Leper), who exist apart from petty jealousy and competition, who would be destroyed by the war and make a "terrible mess" of things.

Chapter 13 Quotes
"I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there. Only Phineas never was afraid, only Phineas never hated anyone."
Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas ("Finny")
Related Symbols: The Devon School
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel comes to a close, Gene cements the way this narrative connects petty schoolboy jealousies with the antagonisms of war: it treats them as the same phenomenon, the same manifestation of intrinsic human failings. Soldiers who have their fear and hatred translated into death and destruction are merely schoolboys who have become a few years older, and have been given deadlier weapons and a vague cause to kill and die for. Gene also finally defines Phineas here, after he has refused to define his friendship throughout the novel (most noticeably when Phineas calls him his "best pal" by the beach). Phineas was the "enemy" to Gene -- as other soldiers are the "enemy" at war. Phineas is the only being truly separate from intrinsic human selfishness -- a selfishness Gene attributes to himself and all others.

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Phineas ("Finny") Character Timeline in A Separate Peace

The timeline below shows where the character Phineas ("Finny") appears in A Separate Peace. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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Gene stands near a giant tree by a river with his best friend, Phineas ("Finny"), and three friends: Elwin "Leper" Lepellier, Chet Douglass, and Bobby Zane. Finny is about... (full context)
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Finny climbs the tree and jumps. Gene is next. He climbs the tree. Though he's terrified,... (full context)
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As the five boys walk back to dinner, Finny says that Gene did well after being "shamed" into it, and then makes fun of... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Mr. Prud'homme, a substitute teacher at Devon for the summer, shows up at Finny and Gene's room the next morning to punish them for missing dinner. Finny tells him... (full context)
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Gene describes Finny as a unique boy, who somehow was good and kind and also a rule breaker.... (full context)
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Finny and Gene go to a tea party given by Mr. Patch-Withers, the Devon summer substitute... (full context)
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After the party, Finny and Gene head to the river. On they way they discuss the war in Europe,... (full context)
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Gene and Finny climb the tree. Gene delays for a second, and almost loses his balance. Finny stabilizes... (full context)
Chapter 3
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As he thinks about Finny saving him in the tree, it occurs to Gene that it was Finny's fault he... (full context)
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Finny and Gene ask six friends to join their society. Finny proclaims that every one of... (full context)
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Finny hates the Devon summer athletics program. When he finds a medicine ball on the fields... (full context)
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Blitzball soon becomes popular. Finny is, of course, the best at it, just as he's the best at socializing with... (full context)
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One day, Finny and Gene go swimming in the Devon pool. Finny decides he wants to break the... (full context)
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Finny then says that real swimming must be done in the ocean. He proposes that they... (full context)
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At the beach, Finny and Gene play in the waves. But after a big wave overpowers him, Gene returns... (full context)
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As they settle down to sleep among the dunes, Finny tells Gene that he is his "best pal." Gene begins to agree, but can't bring... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...school after the night at the beach, Gene flunks his trigonometry test. Later that night, Finny tells Gene that he works too hard and that he's probably trying to be the... (full context)
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Gene now senses that he and Finny are equal in their hatred of each other's successes: he envies Finny's athletic prowess and... (full context)
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...and soon passes Chet Douglass as the best student in the school, on par with Finny's rank as Devon's leading athlete. Yet despite this rivalry, the two of them get along... (full context)
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Gene also mentions his trip to the beach with Finny to Mr. Prud'homme, and is surprised when the teacher doesn't care that they broke the... (full context)
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Then, one night as Gene is studying, Finny barges in to announce that Leper Lepellier has agreed to jump from the tree. Gene... (full context)
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Gene is in shock. As he and Finny walk over to watch Leper jump, Gene realizes Finny never felt any rivalry at all.... (full context)
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At the tree, Finny proposes they start with a simultaneous jump. Gene and Finny climb the tree, but while... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The fall shatters Finny's leg. No one is allowed to visit him in the infirmary. Though no one suspects... (full context)
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That morning, Gene runs into Dr. Stanpole, the school physician. He says Finny is improving, but that he'll never play sports again. Gene starts crying. The doctor tells... (full context)
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As he goes to the infirmary, Gene thinks Finny wants to accuse him of causing his fall. In the infirmary, Finny is propped up... (full context)
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Gene asks Finny what he remembers. Finny says he lost his balance and tried to reach Gene but... (full context)
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Gene asks what made Finny lose his balance. Finny then says he suspects he didn't lose his balance for no... (full context)
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...thoughts about their rivalry were "ludicrous," and realizes that, if he were in Gene's situation, Finny would confess. He starts to confess, but just then Dr. Stanpole enters. The summer session... (full context)
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On his return trip to Devon for the fall semester, Gene stops at Finny's house. Finny is propped on pillows, a shadow of the athlete that he was at... (full context)
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After some small talk, Gene tells Finny that he was responsible for Finny falling from the tree. Finny refuses to believe it.... (full context)
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Finny asks Gene if he's going to start playing by the rules now. Gene says he... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...decides that breaking rules means being broken by them in the end. He thinks of Finny and concludes that rule breakers will always end up broken and reformed by society. (full context)
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Gene lives in the same room he shared with Finny, but Finny's place has not been taken, so Gene lives alone. But a prominent student... (full context)
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...job as assistant senior crew manager. As he passes the Devon River he thinks of Finny performing a favorite stunt: balancing on the end of a canoe. He describes it as... (full context)
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Mr. Ludsbury then tells Gene he got a phone call. Gene calls back. It's Finny, who's relieved that no one has taken his spot as Gene's roommate. (full context)
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But Finny can't understand why Gene would want to be a crew team manager. Gene silently comments... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...Gene is visited by Brinker. Brinker admires Gene's room, and jokes that Gene purposely injured Finny to get it all to himself. Gene defends himself, then changes the subject and suggests... (full context)
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...along, confessing to the crime, but stops in the middle of describing how he knocked Finny from the branch. When another boy suggests Gene just pushed Finny off, Gene ridicules him... (full context)
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...no one anything," he decides to do it. When he gets back to his room, Finny is there. (full context)
Chapter 8
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Finny immediately mocks Gene's shoveling work clothes, and complains that the school no longer has maids.... (full context)
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The next morning, Brinker enters. When he sees Finny, he starts to joke about Gene offing Finny to get the room, but Gene quickly... (full context)
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As Finny and Gene walk around the wintry Devon campus, Finny says that winter must love him,... (full context)
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Finny suggests that they cut class and go see the gym. Walking to the gym makes... (full context)
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In the locker room, Finny again asks Gene what sports he's gone out for. Gene says none because sports seem... (full context)
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Gene asks what makes Finny "so special" that he can see this conspiracy while everyone else believes in the war.... (full context)
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Gene breaks the awkward silence that follows Finny's outburst by doing chin-ups. Finny encourages him to do thirty, then says he once had... (full context)
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Over the following months, Gene tutors Finny in academic subjects and Finny helps Gene become a stronger runner. (full context)
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...training and tells them to remember that all athletic training is preparation for the war. Finny responds: "No." The reply startles Mr. Ludsbury, who walks away muttering. Finny comments to Gene... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Through his training and friendship with Finny, Gene has a newfound inner peace, though he comments as the narrator that this sense... (full context)
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...in the war becomes a running joke: they claim he was behind every allied victory. Finny, though, refuses to take part in these jokes, and slowly pulls Gene into spending all... (full context)
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One bleak winter Saturday, Finny proposes the boys hold "The Devon Winter Carnival." With Gene, he assembles a crew of... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...good guy on the outside, but a "savage underneath." Leper says he knows Gene pushed Finny out of the tree. Gene, furious, kicks over Leper's chair. (full context)
Chapter 11
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Back at Devon, Gene finds Finny in the middle of a snowball fight with a bunch of other students. A few... (full context)
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Finny and Gene are back in their room when Brinker comes in and asks about Leper.... (full context)
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At Gene's prodding, Finny says once again that there isn't really a war, but this time he says it... (full context)
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...enlist. One morning, Brinker suggests that Gene is delaying enlisting because he feels pity for Finny, and because some details of the accident that need to be "cleared up." Gene denies... (full context)
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Back in the dorm, as Gene does Finny's Latin homework, Finny says he began to believe in the war once he heard that... (full context)
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Later that night, Brinker and three boys arrive at Gene and Finny's room. They all go to the Assembly Room, a large auditorium, in Devon's First Building.... (full context)
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They question Finny, who says he just lost his balance and fell, and that Gene was at the... (full context)
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The boys get Leper. Leper calmly says that Gene and Finny were on the branch together when Finny fell. He says the two moved like a... (full context)
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As the tribunal tries to calm Leper, Finny stands and says he doesn't care what happened. When Brinker protests that they need to... (full context)
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The boys hear the taps of Finny's cane as he runs down the hallway, and then a crash as he trips and... (full context)
Chapter 12
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The boys stay calm. Brinker makes sure Finny doesn't move as boys get teachers and Dr. Stanpole to come to Finny's aid. Dr.... (full context)
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Gene sneaks to the infirmary and hides outside and imagines all the funny things Finny must be saying to Dr. Stanpole and Mr. Latham. Gene laughs so hard he cries. (full context)
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...it's dark and the doctors have left, Gene crawls up to the window and opens. Finny furiously accuses Gene of coming to try and hurt him some more. Gene apologizes several... (full context)
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...finds a note in his room from Dr. Stanpole asking him to bring clothes for Finny. At the infirmary, Finny's hands shake as he sorts through his suitcase. He confesses that... (full context)
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Finny starts crying, and says that Gene must not have known what he was doing when... (full context)
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...returns to the infirmary, he is shocked to numbness when Dr. Stanpole tells him that Finny has died because some marrow from the break entered Finny's bloodstream during the operation. (full context)
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Gene never cries about Finny's death, not even at his funeral, because he feels as if it's his own funeral. (full context)
Chapter 13
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Gene says all the hatred he felt disappeared with Finny's death. He says only Finny was able to maintain a constant sense of confidence and... (full context)