A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Finny immediately mocks the clothes Gene wore to shovel the railways, jovially making fun of the way he looks until Gene finally strips to his final layer, an undershirt. This, Finny says, is what Gene should have worn all day—just the undershirt, which looks good on him. Moving on, Finny laments the fact that Devon has gotten rid of all its maids. When Gene reminds him that this is because of the war, Finny hardly pays attention and continues to complain. This bothers Gene, who has no problem dispensing with certain privileges in order to contribute to the war effort.
Gene’s frustration at Finny for complaining about giving up certain luxuries because of the war suggests that, although he has gladly forgotten all about his newfound resolution to enlist in the military, he isn’t necessarily willing to completely force the war out of his mind. Because Finny himself won’t be able to join the military, though, it makes sense that he would be eager to ignore its overall influence.
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Finny is on crutches, but this doesn’t shock Gene as much as it could have, since Finny broke his ankle the previous year while playing football, so Gene has seen him on crutches before. When they go to bed, Gene silently prays that Finny will continue to remain unsensitive about his new condition. After three minutes, though, Finny interrupts him and starts pontificating as he always has. He’s still talking when Gene finally falls asleep.
Finny’s high spirits once more indicate that his and Gene’s friendship will survive more or less unharmed by what happened between them in the aftermath of his fall. Although it seemed as if Finny suspected Gene of causing the accident (and even heard Gene admit to it), he now appears to have put such thoughts behind him, most likely willing himself to deny these ideas in order to continue his friendship with Gene. This, in turn, suggests that their relationship means quite a lot to him.
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The next morning, Brinker bounds into the room and is about to ask Gene if he’s ready to enlist when he sees Finny. Casually, Finny asks Brinker what he was going to say, but Brinker doesn’t respond right away, instead joking with Gene that his plan to oust Finny from the room has failed. Finny asks Gene what Brinker’s talking about, but Gene tries to act like he has no idea. Still, Finny presses, so Gene says that Brinker has come to get him so they can enlist together. With this, even Brinker forgets about the joke, and Finny turns a wild look on Gene, asking him if he’s really going to join the military. As Gene stumbles for a response, he thinks about how he’s never seen Finny give him such a look.
Finny’s shock in this moment suggests that he doesn’t want Gene to join the military. After all, he has just come back to Devon and has most likely worked hard to put all negative thoughts about Gene out of his mind so that they can resume their friendship. If Gene is going to leave him, though, this will all be for nothing. Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that Finny used to talk about the war rather frequently before he injured himself, and although his engagement with the conflict was just as abstract and remote as Gene’s, he clearly romanticized the idea of one day joining the military. Consequently, he would undoubtedly feel left out if Gene and Brinker enlisted and left him by himself at school.
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As Gene and Brinker awkwardly try to explain to Finny that they were thinking of enlisting, Finny declares that he’s going to go take a shower. Crutching away, he refuses their offers to help, though it’s apparent that he isn’t supposed to get his cast wet. When they persist, he viciously tells them he can do it on his own, at which point Gene realizes that Finny is upset that Gene might leave him alone at Devon. Finny, he senses, needs him, and this thought banishes all other considerations from his mind. Thinking this way, he turns on Brinker and tells him that he’d never dream of enlisting with him. As Brinker tries to make sense of this sudden reversal, Finny breaks into a wide smile, and he and Gene start making fun of Brinker for thinking that Gene would ever go into the military with him.
What Finny wants more than anything is to know that Gene cares about him. When Gene recognizes this, he immediately renounces Brinker’s suggestion that they enlist in the military, proving that he will do anything for Finny. In doing so, he once again embodies the innocence of the previous summer, acting as if the war is far, far away, even though he himself saw how real it is just the day before. In turn, readers see once again how strong Finny and Gene’s bond really is, even after the tragic accident. Indeed, it is strong enough to eclipse all else, including the looming presence of World War II.
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It is winter at Devon, which means that Finny has to navigate icy walkways and treacherous berms of snow. Of course, he’s athletic on his crutches, but Gene can still see how tiring it is for him to make his way to class. Nonetheless, Finny declares that winter must love him because he loves winter—an idea that outlines his entire worldview, though Gene privately notes that Finny has had plenty of experiences that contradict this outlook. When they reach his classroom on Finny’s first day back, Finny suggests that he and Gene skip class, directing them to the gym. This requires him to crutch over a vast amount of ice, thoroughly winding him. When they arrive, Finny sits in the locker room and admires it as if it’s some sort of sanctuary. “Same old place, isn’t it?” he asks, but Gene replies, “Not exactly.”
Finny’s idealistic, optimistic worldview is still intact, even after his accident. However, Finny’s fall has turned Gene into something of a skeptic, since the event forced him to recognize certain ugly elements of his own identity. For this reason, he finds it hard to wrap his head around Finny’s belief that everything that he loves must also love him back. Similarly, he can’t bring himself to agree that the locker room feels like the “same old place,” since the room itself represents the school’s athletic accomplishments and, therefore, brings to mind the fact that Devon’s most talented athlete is no longer able to compete. Unlike Finny, Gene can’t push this from his mind, since he’s the one responsible for this dismal reality.
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In response to Gene’s comment that the locker room doesn’t feel like the “same old place,” Finny simply says that now Gene will have to take his place as the school’s star athlete. He then casually tells Gene to do chin-ups before asking which sports he ended up trying out for. Again, Gene tells him that he didn’t go out for any sports, arguing that such things seem trivial during wartime. Aghast, Finny rejects this notion, admonishing Gene for getting swept up in all the talk about the war. In fact, he claims to not really believe that a world war is even happening. Outlining this unconventional viewpoint, he says that each generation of adults tries to suppress the youth. This happened in the ’20s with Prohibition and then in the ’30s with the Great Depression. Now, he claims, it’s happening with the war.
Unable to join the war himself, Finny ignores its influence altogether. This is very obviously a defense mechanism, something he uses to make himself feel better about the fact that he will soon be forced to sit and watch as his peers join the military, which is something he wanted to do. What’s more, he recognizes that he can’t even play sports, so he decides to live vicariously through Gene, wanting him to become the school’s best athlete. Interestingly enough, though, he doesn’t want Gene to join the war, despite the fact that this is what he always imagined he himself would do. This is because he doesn’t want Gene to leave him at Devon, once again underlining how much their relationship means to him.
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According to Finny, the old men of America don’t want young people taking their jobs and having a good time, so they’ve lied and said that there’s a war going on. While young men like themselves join the military and institutions reduce their spending, then, these old men dine lavishly on expensive steak, having a great time while everyone else is miserable. Gene refuses to believe this, asking Finny questions that get him more and more riled up about what he’s saying. Finally, Gene asks why Finny—of all people—would know this when nobody else does. “Because I’ve suffered,” Finny screams, and then a tense, shocked silence hangs between them in the locker room. 
Despite Finny’s overall good attitude, he can’t quite hide the fact that he has been through a traumatic experience. In this moment, he acknowledges that his fall from the tree caused him great suffering and ultimately impacted his entire life. For this reason, he concocts a ludicrous theory about the war, doing so as a way of denying the fact that the conflict now stands for all the things in life in which he cannot partake. 
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Slowly, Gene walks to the exercise bar and begins doing chin-ups, not knowing how else to break the silence. As he does this, Finny looks up and emotionlessly tells him to do 30. Gene has never even done ten chin-ups, but he doesn’t think about this. When he does his 12th, he realizes that Finny has been counting along with him, and as the numbers climb, Finny gets more and more excited, eventually calling out the numbers and standing up to watch. Gene completes all 30, and Finny chimes out the number in a tone of pure delight. In this moment, Gene realizes that Finny was just as taken aback by his own vehemence as Gene was. Sitting back down, Finny confides in him, saying that he always dreamed of qualifying for the 1944 Olympic Games. Because he can’t, though, he has decided that Gene will instead.
When Gene does 30 chin-ups, he demonstrates his loyalty to Finny, showing his friend that—no matter what has happened between them—their friendship means more to him than anything else, including the war. Accordingly, Finny sees that Gene truly does care about him, so he opens up by telling him his dashed dream of qualifying for the Olympics. What’s more, when he says that now Gene will qualify instead of him, readers see that Gene truly has become part of Finny in the aftermath of the accident. Whereas Gene previously felt as if he were competing with Finny, the two boys now merge their identities. Instead of establishing his own sense of self, then, Gene gravitates toward Finny’s identity.
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Gene insists that there won’t be any Olympics in 1944 because of the war, but Finny tells him to leave his “fantasy life” out of this discussion, so Gene agrees to train with Finny for the Games. Of course, he doesn’t believe Finny’s theory that World War II is a hoax, but he slowly begins to consider how humorous and absurd it would be if Finny were indeed correct. So begins what becomes a running joke between them, as Finny makes sarcastic comments to Gene whenever people bring up some new development in the war. Gene even suspects that the teachers at Devon are using the war as an excuse to motivate the students to be disciplined and rigorous—two things he knows the school would try to encourage regardless of whether or not there was a war afoot.
Although Gene doesn’t believe Finny’s conspiracy theory about the war, he slowly embraces it. At first, he does this simply to please his best friend, for whom he would seemingly do anything. As he plays into what he sees as a running joke, though, he begins to entertain it as a legitimate possibility. In this way, readers see just how much influence Finny has over Gene, most likely because he feels guilty about what happened in the tree.
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In the following months, Gene helps Finny with his schoolwork while Finny trains him to become a better runner. To do this, they get up early and Finny makes Gene run a large loop outside despite the cold. Gene mostly hates this, but one day he has a breakthrough and finds it easy to push himself. Finny congratulates him on this progress, but Gene notes that he looks somehow older and smaller as he talks to him, though he also wonders if this isn’t perhaps because he himself feels suddenly bigger.
Although Finny is training Gene and thereby letting him feel like he has become part of him, there’s no changing the fact that—because of his injury—Finny is no longer able to do the things that he’s teaching Gene to do. When he improves his athleticism, then, Gene realizes that he is developing beyond Finny, suddenly feeling as if they’re no longer all that even with one another. In this sense, a slight sense of competition is still alive in their relationship, though Gene no longer harbors any bitterness about Finny because he isn’t threatened by him—rather, he feels like he is him, though Finny might not necessarily feel the same.
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On their way back to the dorms after a successful morning of training, Mr. Ludsbury stops Gene and Finny and asks them what they’re doing. When Finny tells him that he’s training Gene for the 1944 Olympics, Mr. Ludsbury reminds them that all athletic training should be intended as preparation for the war. “No,” Finny replies. This startles Mr. Ludsbury, who walks away while muttering to himself. As he leaves, Finny says that Mr. Ludsbury must be too thin to be let in on the war conspiracy, which is run by fat old men. Thinking about this, Gene pities Mr. Ludsbury for being so skinny, though he also realizes that the man has always been rather gullible.
This is an important moment because it signals Gene’s newfound acceptance of Finny’s conspiracy theory. Rather than finding Finny’s statement about Mr. Ludsbury ridiculous, Gene feels bad that Mr. Ludsbury hasn’t been let in on the fact that the war isn’t real. In turn, it becomes clear that he has talked himself into believing Finny’s theory, even if he knows better. Once again, then, readers see how devoted he is to Finny and how much their relationship influences the way he views the world.
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