A Separate Peace

Gene Forrester Character Analysis

The novel's narrator and protagonist. At the beginning of the novel, Gene is a man in his 30s looking back on his days as a student at private preparatory academy called the Devon School. As a student, he is extremely intelligent, vying for valedictorian and proving himself as a capable athlete. He is also sensitive and immensely competitive, especially with his roommate and best friend, Finny, with whom he spends all his time during the summer session after their junior year at Devon. Gene’s relationship with Finny is complex and nuanced, since he simultaneously admires and envies him. At times, Gene so adores his friend that he actually wants to become him, privately marveling about what it would be like to be such a confident, talented, and charming young man. At other times, though, Gene feels incredible resentment for Finny’s athletic and social accomplishments, eventually imagining that Finny feels similarly competitive and is trying to sabotage his own academic success in order to ensure that he (Gene) is as well-rounded as him. At the end of the summer, this resentment builds to such a degree that Gene, either consciously or unconsciously, causes Finny to fall out of a tree and break his leg, destroying his athletic career. When Finny returns to school several months later, Gene is relieved to see that he has put the incident behind them, thinking that Finny doesn’t suspect him of malice. In the coming months, though, one of his fellow classmates, Brinker Hadley, voices his suspicions regarding what happened in the tree that summer—a development that leads to Finny’s realization that Gene hurt him on purpose. This, in turn, has disastrous effects on both Gene and Finny’s relationship and Finny’s entire life. Simply put, A Separate Peace reads like a long diary entry in which Gene tries to sort out what happened between him and Finny that summer at Devon and what has happened to him emotionally ever since.

Gene Forrester Quotes in A Separate Peace

The A Separate Peace quotes below are all either spoken by Gene Forrester or refer to Gene Forrester. 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:
War and Rivalry Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of A Separate Peace published in 2003.
Chapter 1  Quotes

This was the tree, and it seemed to me standing there to resemble those men, the giants of your childhood, whom you encounter years later and find that they are not merely smaller in relation to your growth, but that they are absolutely smaller, shrunken by age…[for] the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way.

Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Tree, The Devon School
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
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Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even a death by violence. Changed, I headed back through the mud. I was drenched; anybody could see it was time to come in out of the rain.

Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas (“Finny”)
Related Symbols: The Tree, The Devon School
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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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”)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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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 Symbols: The Tree
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
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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”)
Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 6 Quotes

Across the hall […] where Leper Lepellier had dreamed his way through July and August amid sunshine and dust motes and windows through which the ivy had reached tentatively into the room, here Brinker Hadley had established his headquarters. Emissaries were already dropping in to confer with him.

Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
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So to Phineas I said, “I’m too busy for sports,” and he went into his incoherent groans and jumbles of words, and I thought the issue was settled until at the end he said, “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”)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7 Quotes

In the same way the war, beginning almost humorously with announcements about [no more] maids and days spent at apple-picking, commenced its invasion of the school.

Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas (“Finny”)
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
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To enlist. To slam the door impulsively on the past, to shed everything down to my last bit of clothing, to break the pattern of my life […]. The war would be deadly all right. But I was used to finding something deadly in things that attracted me.

Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas (“Finny”), Brinker Hadley
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
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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”), Brinker Hadley
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
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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”)
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 10 Quotes

Fear seized my stomach like a cramp. I didn’t care what I said to him now; it was myself I was worried about. For if Leper was psycho it was the army which had done it to him, and I and all of us were on the brink of the army.

Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Elwin “Leper” Lepellier
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:
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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”), Brinker Hadley
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:
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I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case.

Related Characters: Gene Forrester (speaker), Phineas (“Finny”)
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:
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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”)
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:
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Gene Forrester Character Timeline in A Separate Peace

The timeline below shows where the character Gene Forrester 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 Forrester visits the Devon School in New Hampshire 15 years after graduating. As he walks... (full context)
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Gene notes that he used to feel a constant sense of fear when he was a... (full context)
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Still looking at the marble stairs, Gene understands that they’re the same as they’ve always been. He, however, feels different than he... (full context)
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Ruining his shoes in the mud, Gene finally reaches the river and starts looking for a particular tree. Peering through fog and... (full context)
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Gene is grateful to have found the tree and to have seen how truly small it... (full context)
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The narrative jumps back to 1942, when Gene is attending the summer session at the Devon School. Looking at the tree, he feels... (full context)
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...World War II is gaining momentum, and the young men just one year older than Gene and Finny are all headed to the war, either enlisting or getting drafted. For now,... (full context)
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Although he resists it with every fiber of his being, Gene agrees to jump next. When he mounts the limb, he sees he’ll have to fling... (full context)
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As the five boys walk back to campus for dinner, Finny says that Gene did well, though he points out that he needed to guilt him into going through... (full context)
Chapter 2 
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Mr. Prud’homme, a substitute teacher at Devon for the summer, comes to Finny and Gene’s room the next morning to admonish them for missing dinner. Instead of making up an... (full context)
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...reason they missed dinner was because they had to jump out of the tree. This, Gene notes, is a much more serious infraction than missing a meal, but Finny launches into... (full context)
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Gene describes Finny as a unique boy, someone who is good and kind, even if he’s... (full context)
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...he’s heard and speaking patriotically about what’s happening. Shortly after Mr. Prud’homme leaves his and Gene’s room, he puts on a pink shirt. This astounds Gene, who worries that people will... (full context)
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Throughout the day, Gene watches Finny explain to his teachers why he’s wearing a pink shirt, speaking passionately about... (full context)
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After the party, Finny and Gene head to the river. On the way, they discuss the war, and Finny says that... (full context)
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About to jump, Gene loses his balance on the tree limb. Seeing him teeter, Finny swiftly reaches out and... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Gene thinks about how Finny saved his life, but he also realizes that Finny is the... (full context)
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Despite his desire to tell Finny every night that he can’t come to the river, Gene never voices his true feelings. Instead, he follows Finny to the tree and jumps, eternally... (full context)
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...circles around his opponents and sometimes even chuckling to himself when he thoroughly dupes them. Gene watches him in admiration, observing how good he is at seemingly everything he does. Even... (full context)
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Gene notes as an aside that everyone has a certain moment—a “moment in history”—that defines their... (full context)
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One day, Finny and Gene are hanging out at the school’s pool when Finny sees that nobody has broken the... (full context)
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Baffled, Gene tells Finny how impressed he is. Finny, for his part, unexcitedly accepts this praise, and... (full context)
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...that swimming in pools doesn’t count as “real swimming.” He then suggests that he and Gene should go to the beach, which will take hours to reach on their bikes. Nothing... (full context)
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When they arrive at the beach, Finny and Gene play in the water. But after a big wave overpowers him, Gene returns to the... (full context)
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As they settle down to sleep among the dunes, Finny thanks Gene for coming with him, saying that he hopes he’s having a good time. He also... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Gene wakes up early the next morning and watches the sun fill the sky. Finny is... (full context)
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Gene’s conversation with Finny about academic performances makes him consider the nature of their friendship. He... (full context)
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Gene asks Finny if he’d mind if he did become valedictorian, and Finny sarcastically says that... (full context)
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As the final exams of the summer session approach, Gene feels underprepared, despite the amount of studying he’s been doing. One thing that continues to... (full context)
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Gene is caught off-guard by Finny’s suggestion that he keep studying instead of jumping from the... (full context)
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...tree and greet the other members of the Suicide Society, Finny suggests that he and Gene should make the first jump together, plunging into the water at the same time. Not... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...innocent summer in 1942 should have to face such pain and hardship. Though nobody accuses Gene of causing the fall, he wonders if he purposefully made Finny lose his balance by... (full context)
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One morning, the school physician, Dr. Stanpole, informs Gene that Finny is well enough to receive visitors. Gene is hesitant at first, but Dr.... (full context)
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Gene pauses before fully entering Finny’s room, and Finny tells him to come inside, joking that... (full context)
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Finny points out that the look Gene had on his face when he fell is exactly the look he’s wearing right now.... (full context)
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Gene has no idea what to say, since Finny has just apologized to him for suspecting... (full context)
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The summer session ends, and Gene goes home for the rest of August before heading back to Devon. His trains are... (full context)
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Insisting that he made the tree branch move, Gene stands and loudly states that he was responsible for Finny’s fall. Calmly, Finny informs him... (full context)
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Whether or not Gene meant to cause Finny’s fall, he realizes that it will hurt Finny even more if... (full context)
Chapter 6
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When Gene returns to Devon, he feels as if the calm ease of the summer session has... (full context)
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Gene decides to visit Brinker, but stops before he enters, realizing that he doesn’t want to... (full context)
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At the end of the day, Quackenbush tries to understand why Gene is suddenly interested in managing teams, which is a job mostly filled by people who... (full context)
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Although Gene wants to think that he hit Quackenbush to defend Finny, he knows that he really... (full context)
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Apologizing for doubting that Gene would save his place, Finny moves on to other topics, asking what sports Gene is... (full context)
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Not wanting to explain his thoughts about sports to Finny, Gene simply says that he’s too busy to go out for any teams. However, Finny rejects... (full context)
Chapter 7
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When Gene returns to his room, Brinker Hadley pays him a visit. Brinker, a gregarious and likable... (full context)
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Once in the Butt Room, Brinker continues to joke about Gene’s cunning plan. In front of the other smoking students, Gene is once more forced to... (full context)
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Suddenly, Gene turns to the youngest boy in the room, who has been boisterously playing along as... (full context)
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As Autumn progresses, Gene is relieved that none of his fellow students say anything more about him causing Finny’s... (full context)
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On his way to shovel the tracks, Gene takes a shortcut through the woods and finds Leper, who is “touring” the area on... (full context)
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On the train ride back to campus, Gene and the others talk about joining the military. While everyone speaks eagerly about wanting to... (full context)
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...“school for photographers of beaver dams” when there’s a world war happening. Walking away with Gene, he declares that he’s going to enlist the following day. This sends a shock through... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Finny immediately mocks the clothes Gene wore to shovel the railways, jovially making fun of the way he looks until Gene... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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As Gene and Brinker awkwardly try to explain to Finny that they were thinking of enlisting, Finny... (full context)
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...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.... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Slowly, Gene walks to the exercise bar and begins doing chin-ups, not knowing how else to break... (full context)
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Gene insists that there won’t be any Olympics in 1944 because of the war, but Finny... (full context)
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In the following months, Gene helps Finny with his schoolwork while Finny trains him to become a better runner. To... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Gene gradually accepts Finny’s “vision of peace.” This is largely because he himself feels happy and... (full context)
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...bleak winter Saturday, Finny declares that the boys should hold “The Devon Winter Carnival.” With Gene, he assembles a crew of collaborators, including Brinker and his mild-mannered roommate, Brownie Perkins. Brinker... (full context)
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...trumpet, everyone drinks cider, and Finny dances atop one of the tables, twisting out what Gene refers to as his own “choreography of peace.” In all, the carnival is a tremendous... (full context)
Chapter 10
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The “Christmas location” is Leper’s home in Vermont, to which Gene takes a train that very night. In retrospect, he sees this late-night train trip as... (full context)
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Gene hopes that Leper’s use of the word “escape” doesn’t meant that he deserted the military.... (full context)
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As Leper tells Gene what happened, he senses that Gene thinks he’s a “psycho.” This word deeply troubles Gene,... (full context)
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Outraged, Gene jumps up, but Leper only laughs hysterically. He reminds Gene that he ruined Finny’s life,... (full context)
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Gene begs Leper to stop talking, but Leper either won’t or can’t. Unable to bear it... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Gene wants more than anything to see Finny when he gets back to school, so he... (full context)
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After dinner, Brinker visits Gene and Finny’s room and asks about Leper. Gene is vague, not wanting to talk about... (full context)
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Gene says that it doesn’t matter if Finny can’t join the military because there’s no war... (full context)
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...flock to specialized branches of the military that are elite and safe. Nobody is eager, Gene notes, to join the frontlines. This, at least, is his attitude. He decides to wait... (full context)
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One morning, Brinker approaches Gene and steers him into a private room, where he accuses him of putting off enlistment... (full context)
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Gene heads back to the dorm in a fit of worry, concerned about what Brinker might... (full context)
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...like admitting it. Going on, he admits that he wasn’t sure what to think when Gene told his story about Leper, but then he saw Leper himself earlier that very morning.... (full context)
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Late that night, Brinker and three others burst into Gene and Finny’s room. Not saying where they’re going, they lead them to the Assembly Room,... (full context)
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Gene interjects, but Brinker pushes on, saying that it will be good to get everything “out... (full context)
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Some of the other boys jump in at this point, pointing out that Gene was also in the tree. As he scrambles to answer, though, Finny says that Gene... (full context)
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...he remembers what happened. He says that he was in the tree and remembers seeing Gene standing on the bank. He recalls Gene making fun of him for showing off and... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...and Mr. Latham, the wrestling coach who knows first aid. At one point, Brinker tells Gene to get a blanket for Finny. When he comes back, he gives the blanket to... (full context)
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...Finny in a chair and assembles a group to carry him away. As Finny goes, Gene watches his serene face, sensing that he isn’t used to needing help from others. Just... (full context)
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Gene doesn’t want to go back to his empty dorm room. Instead, he sneaks into the... (full context)
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Gene watches as Finny lifts his torso back onto the bed. Gene then slips out the... (full context)
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At the infirmary, Finny tells Gene where to put the suitcase. His tone is matter-of-fact, but Gene notices that his hands... (full context)
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Finny tells Gene that he has been writing to various military branches all year, desperately trying to find... (full context)
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Finny tells Gene that he does believe him when he says there was nothing personal about what he... (full context)
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After Gene and Finny make up, Dr. Stanpole tells Gene to come back to the infirmary around... (full context)
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...He then laments the fact that such things have to happen to young boys like Gene and Finny. Having heard this news, Gene does not cry, nor does he cry at... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Gene and his classmates graduate, and Devon lets the military use part of the campus for... (full context)
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Brinker invites Gene to the Butt Room to meet his father. When he meets him, Gene tells Brinker’s... (full context)
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Gene goes to the gym to empty his locker. Inside the locker room, he encounters a... (full context)
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Gene’s peers have all begun to understand the reality of the war. Finny, though, was capable... (full context)
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Outside again, Gene hears marching instructions from afar and can’t help but let his feet fall into the... (full context)