The novel's narrator and protagonist. At the novel's opening he is a man in his thirties looking back at his days as a student at private prep academy called the Devon School. As a student, he was extremely intelligent, vying for valedictorian. He was also sensitive and immensely competitive, especially with his roommate and best friend Finny, whom he meets during the summer session after junior year at Devon. In fact, Gene's relationship with Finny can best be described as love-hate. At times Gene so adores and admires his friend that he actually wants to be him, and goes so far as to dress up in Finny's clothes. At other times, Gene feels incredible resentment at Finny's athletic or social accomplishments, and imagines that Finny feels similarly competitive and is trying to sabotage Gene's academic success. 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. 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. It's never clear how successful Gene is in this effort, and he should be considered an unreliable narrator.
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: 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 absolutey smaller, shrunken by age....[for] the old giants have become pigmies while you were looking the other way."
"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."
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."
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."
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."
"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."
"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."
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."
"'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.
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."
"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."
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."
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."
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."
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.'"
"I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case."
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."
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.
One bleak winter Saturday, Finny proposes the boys hold "The Devon Winter Carnival." With Gene, he assembles a crew of collaborators, including Brinker and his roommate Brownie Perkins. They drink... (full context)