A Separate Peace

Phineas (“Finny”) Character Analysis

Gene’s best friend and classmate at the Devon School. Finny is a talented athlete and a charismatic student leader who’s earned the respect and admiration of the entire student body. His freewheeling behavior often gets him into trouble, but his charm saves him from every potential disciplinary snag. Finny 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, simply appreciating the beauty of their friendship and treating Gene with the kind of fellow-feeling that comes along with such close relationships. Unfortunately for him, though, Gene’s skepticism interferes with their relationship, since he comes to resent the fact that Finny thinks everyone shares his carefree approach to life. This misunderstanding leads Gene to cause Finny to fall out of a tall tree, thereby ruining his athletic career and altering the course of his life. And though Finny suspects that Gene did this on purpose, he never accuses him of this behavior because he values their friendship too much, believing that it would be wrong to level such claims at his best friend. If anything can be said against Finny, it is that he is overly optimistic and idealistic, choosing to see the best in people instead of focusing on certain harsh realities. Similarly, he hatches a conspiracy theory that World War II is a hoax, insisting upon this to Gene as a way of distracting himself from his disappoint that he can no longer join the military. This is the same kind of denial he applies to his relationship with Gene, choosing to force any suspicion out of his mind until Brinker Hadley forces him to reconstruct the memory of his fall, at which point he realizes that Gene caused his injury. This realization destabilizes his and Gene’s friendship and ultimately leads to Finny’s death, since he tries to run down a set of stairs after hearing the news and ends up falling down them. Despite all that has happened, though, he manages to forgive Gene before dying.

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:
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

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 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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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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...even want to climb it, let alone jump out of it, which is exactly what Phineas, his roommate and best friend, wants to do. Unlike Gene, Phineas is unafraid, waxing poetic... (full context)
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...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, though, Gene... (full context)
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...his body forward in order to avoid landing on the bank. As he contemplates this, Finny reminds him that he won’t be able to hesitate like this when his ship is... (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... (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... (full context)
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Gene describes Finny as a unique boy, someone who is good and kind, even if he’s also a... (full context)
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Finny thinks about the war constantly, often talking about the various updates he’s heard and speaking... (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 the bombing... (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... (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 catches him. Flooded with relief, Gene jumps without fear, and Finny... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Gene thinks about how Finny saved his life, but he also realizes that Finny is the one who put him... (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.... (full context)
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...sport of the summer, as everyone wants to play. The best athlete at the school, Finny is a natural at Blitzball, running circles around his opponents and sometimes even chuckling to... (full context)
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...period took place during World War II, when he was at the Devon School with Finny and hearing about the war while living out the easy existence of a 16-year-old student.... (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... (full context)
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Baffled, Gene tells Finny how impressed he is. Finny, for his part, unexcitedly accepts this praise, and Gene wonders... (full context)
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Discounting his own success, Finny says that swimming in pools doesn’t count as “real swimming.” He then suggests that he... (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... (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.... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Gene wakes up early the next morning and watches the sun fill the sky. Finny is still asleep, but when he finally wakes, he insists upon taking one last swim... (full context)
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Gene’s conversation with Finny about academic performances makes him consider the nature of their friendship. He senses that Finny... (full context)
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Gene asks Finny if he’d mind if he did become valedictorian, and Finny sarcastically says that he’d commit... (full context)
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...studying he’s been doing. One thing that continues to interfere is the Suicide Society, since Finny frequently interrupts his studies so they can go jump out of the tree. And yet,... (full context)
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Gene is caught off-guard by Finny’s suggestion that he keep studying instead of jumping from the tree. But Finny goes on,... (full context)
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When they reach the 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... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Nobody is allowed to visit Finny in the infirmary, where he lies after having decimated his leg, the bone messily broken.... (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. Stanpole insists... (full context)
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Gene pauses before fully entering Finny’s room, and Finny tells him to come inside, joking that Gene looks worse than him.... (full context)
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Finny points out that the look Gene had on his face when he fell is exactly... (full context)
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Gene has no idea what to say, since Finny has just apologized to him for suspecting what Gene himself knows is the truth. Considering... (full context)
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...delayed on his return trip, and he suddenly is filled with the desire to see Finny, so he heads toward Boston instead of catching his final train back to campus. When... (full context)
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...made the tree branch move, Gene stands and loudly states that he was responsible for Finny’s fall. Calmly, Finny informs him that he’ll hit him if he doesn’t sit down and... (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 he knows that this... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...All the beauty and peace and tranquility of the summer, Gene feels, ended the night Finny fell from the tree, and now he must set himself to the rote habits of... (full context)
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...the assistant crew manager. On his way, he sees the Devon River and thinks of Finny, though he’s actually headed toward the Naguamsett River, which the Devon joins before entering the... (full context)
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Although Gene wants to think that he hit Quackenbush to defend Finny, he knows that he really did it for himself. On his way back to the... (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 going out for this year.... (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... (full context)
Chapter 7
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...on having such nice accommodations all to himself. When he jokes that Gene purposefully injured Finny so he could live alone in their room, Gene is seized with fear and discomfort,... (full context)
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...so that everyone understands he’s joking. Just when he’s about to explain how he caused Finny to fall, though, he stops, unable to go on. (full context)
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...the boy to fill in the blanks. When the boy uncomfortably suggests that he pushed Finny, Gene makes fun of him for ruining the joke, and the others laugh while the... (full context)
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...Gene is relieved that none of his fellow students say anything more about him causing Finny’s fall. Meanwhile, snow comes early, and news of the war continues to encroach upon the... (full context)
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...with a new sense of resolve, he bounds upstairs, swings open his door, and finds Phineas sitting at his desk. Suddenly, all his resolutions evaporate at the sight of his best... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Finny immediately mocks the clothes Gene wore to shovel the railways, jovially making fun of the... (full context)
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Finny is on crutches, but this doesn’t shock Gene as much as it could have, since... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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According to Finny, the old men of America don’t want young people taking their jobs and having a... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (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 do this,... (full context)
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...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... (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 has trouble imagining... (full context)
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...he’s behind every allied victory. In the Butt Room, they kid about these developments, but Finny never takes part, instead slowly pulling Gene away from the others in order to spend... (full context)
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One bleak winter Saturday, Finny declares that the boys should hold “The Devon Winter Carnival.” With Gene, he assembles a... (full context)
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As the boys set up the carnival, Finny surveys the proceedings. Chet Douglass walks around with a trumpet while another group of boys... (full context)
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...the afternoon, everyone acts wildly. Chet stomps around playing his trumpet, everyone drinks cider, and Finny dances atop one of the tables, twisting out what Gene refers to as his own... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...always been something ugly lurking at his core. This, Leper says, is why Gene caused Finny’s fall. (full context)
Chapter 11
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Gene wants more than anything to see Finny when he gets back to school, so he goes looking for him, eventually finding him... (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 what happened... (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 anyway. Although Finny smiles, Gene detects that... (full context)
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...him into a private room, where he accuses him of putting off enlistment because of Finny. Everyone knows, he says, that Gene won’t enlist because he “pities” Finny. When Gene objects,... (full context)
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...about what Brinker might do or say. As he goes up the stairs, he encounters Finny, who has blocked a group of boys from ascending until they sing a choral song... (full context)
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Finny continues to talk about Leper, saying that he now understands once and for all that... (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, which is... (full context)
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...everything “out into the open” so that nobody is suspicious about what happened. This unnerves Finny, who asks Gene what’s going on. Still, Brinker forges onward, continuing to ask Finny questions.... (full context)
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...pointing out that Gene was also in the tree. As he scrambles to answer, though, Finny says that Gene was at the bottom of the tree, and Gene immediately agrees. This... (full context)
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Amidst the confusion, Finny suddenly insists that he remembers what happened. He says that he was in the tree... (full context)
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Brinker asks who else was present when Finny fell, and somebody says that Leper was there. Brinker remarks that Leper would know exactly... (full context)
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Brinker asks Leper to identify if the person who fell was Finny, but Leper refuses to do so, not wanting to get too involved. When Brinker continues... (full context)
Chapter 12
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The boys act immediately when they hear Finny fall down the stairs. While Brinker makes sure that nobody moves Finny’s body, other boys... (full context)
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When Dr. Stanpole arrives, he carefully places Finny in a chair and assembles a group to carry him away. As Finny goes, Gene... (full context)
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...the infirmary and crouches beneath the window, hearing Dr. Stanpole and the nurse work on Finny. At one point, he thinks of how Mr. Latham always tells people to give things... (full context)
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Gene watches as Finny lifts his torso back onto the bed. Gene then slips out the window again, walking... (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... (full context)
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Finny tells Gene that he has been writing to various military branches all year, desperately trying... (full context)
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Finny tells Gene that he does believe him when he says there was nothing personal about... (full context)
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After Gene and Finny make up, Dr. Stanpole tells Gene to come back to the infirmary around 5 that... (full context)
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Dr. Stanpole says that setting Finny’s bone should have been a simple procedure and, for that reason, he saw no need... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...them and thinks about how skinny they look. He notes that he never talks about Finny anymore but always feels as if he’s somehow in his presence. The time that he... (full context)
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Gene’s peers have all begun to understand the reality of the war. Finny, though, was capable of avoiding the crushing misery that war brings, and Gene knows that... (full context)
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...Indeed, he feels as if he has already killed his enemy. He also recognizes that Finny is the only person he ever met who never hated anyone. Other people develop various... (full context)