A Separate Peace

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Themes and Colors
War and Rivalry Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Change and Growing Up Theme Icon
Sports and Athletics Theme Icon
Jealousy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Separate Peace, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Jealousy Theme Icon

At the core of the conflict between Gene and Finny is Gene's desire to be more like Finny, or even to become him. Gene's jealousy of Finny corrupts their friendship and leads Gene to "jounce" Finny out of the tree. Some of Gene's jealous feelings toward Finny are casual, such as his desire for Finny's carefree charm. Others are more deeply rooted, so much so that even Gene doesn't understand their origin. For example, Gene finds himself unable to respond when Finny says Gene is his "best pal." A deep-seated sense of envy and rivalry prevents him from reciprocating Finny's pure feelings of friendship. Gene's jealousy of Finny only wanes after Finny's injury destroys the traits about Finny that Gene most envied.

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Jealousy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Jealousy appears in each chapter of A Separate Peace. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Jealousy Quotes in A Separate Peace

Below you will find the important quotes in A Separate Peace related to the theme of Jealousy.
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.


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"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 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.