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A Separate Peace | Quotes

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1.

Nothing endures, not a tree, not love, not even death by violence.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 1

The adult Gene has returned to Devon School. He visits the tree that plays such a huge part in his story. The tree, once so intimidating, is now old and feeble. Gene reflects on how time changes things and nothing lasts. He specifically refers to the loss of love (between him and Finny) and violent death, both in war and in the course of the story.

2.

Phineas could get away with anything. I couldn't help envying him that a little.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 2

Phineas is so charming and full of life that he can break the rules and do forbidden things while talking his way out of any reprimand. Gene admits that he, too, is charmed by Finny but states that he also envies him. The mild statement of envy here foreshadows the consequences of Gene's growing resentment of Finny later in the story.

3.

His accomplishment ... grew rapidly in [my mind's] darkness where I was forced to hide it.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 3

Finny breaks a school swimming record but is uninterested in having it recorded or getting the credit. Gene, who envies Finny's effortless athletic prowess and who yearns for recognition, cannot forgive Finny for his selflessness. Gene knows he'll keep the memory of his intense resentment hidden in his mind. It will be one of many resentments that affect his later behavior, although he rarely acknowledges his resentment so openly.

4.

This was the first of [Finny's] many rules ... I hated it ... But I always jumped.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 3

This quote reveals Finny's creativity and charisma. He has created the Super Suicide Society and made the rule that requires boys to jump from a high tree branch into the river in order to become Society members. Finny's charisma is so strong that Gene and other boys follow these rules—even if they hate and fear them. For Gene, jumping in the river to please Finny just adds to his resentment and his feeling of inadequacy when compared to Finny.

5.

I found a single sustaining thought ... [I] and Phineas are even already.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 4

Gene has developed a full-blown rivalry with Finny, who he's beginning to hate for his superior athletic skill. In this quote Gene realizes that he's "even" with Finny because while Finny is first in athletics, Gene is first in academics. They are both first in something, so they are "even."

6.

I ... jumped into the river, every trace of my fear ... forgotten.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 4

Earlier Gene feared jumping from the high branch of the tree and resented Finny for insisting he do it. Here, Gene has jolted the tree branch and caused Finny to fall on the riverbank, shattering his leg. This act of revenge frees Gene of his fear and he blithely jumps from the tree into the river. Harming Finny has freed Gene from his envy.

7.

You ... look so personally shocked. You look like it happened to you or something.


Finny, Chapter 5

Finny and Gene are talking in the infirmary after Finny has fallen from the tree and shattered his leg. The quote reveals that Gene was in some way shocked that he had enough hatred inside him to harm Finny in this way. The quote also suggests that Gene and Finny are so close they are almost the same person. So for Gene harming Finny was, in a way, harming himself.

8.

This must have been my purpose from the first: to become a part of Phineas.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 6

Gene thinks this when Finny insists that since he, Finny, can no longer play sports Gene will play sports for him. Gene is so moved by Finny's love and generosity he recognizes that what he really wants is to be a part of Phineas, to be one with him and share his identity.

9.

I yearned to take giant military shears to [the pattern of my life], snap!


Gene Forrester, Chapter 7

Brinker has just told Gene he intends to enlist in the military the next day. Gene contemplates enlisting. He realizes that going into the military would be a welcome break with his current schoolboy life, his past (including what he did to Finny at the tree), and the entire pattern of his troubled life at Devon School. It would mean irrevocably crossing the line between youth and adulthood.

10.

Peace is indivisible, and the surrounding world confusion found no reflection inside me.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 9

Finny insists that the war is not happening. Gene, who is beginning to excel at sports under Finny's guidance, is now extremely fond of Finny. The quote hints at the unity of identity between the two boys. Gene has found perfect peace in his "indivisible" relationship with Finny. He is deceived only insofar as he knows deep down that there really is a war, but it does not affect his feelings of inner peace.

11.

I didn't care because it had nothing to do with me.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 10

Gene reacts with emotional violence when Leper expresses his insane ideas. Gene refuses to listen to Leper's deranged speech. His stating that he doesn't care or want to listen to Leper "ever" reveals Gene's fear and denial of the reality of the war and its imminence for him and the other senior boys at school.

12.

If a war can drive somebody crazy, then it's real all right.


Finny, Chapter 11

Here Finny says that he now accepts that there really is a war. Leper's insanity after "escaping" from the military has convinced Finny that only a horrific war could have made Leper insane.

13.

It wasn't anything you really felt against me, it wasn't some kind of hate.


Finny, Chapter 12

Gene is visiting Finny in the infirmary after he falls and breaks his leg for the second time. Finny will not believe that the incident at the tree was a deliberate act resulting from Gene's hate for or envy of him. For despite everything that's happened to him, Finny seems incapable of hating anyone. He refuses to accept that Gene, the person he is closest to (almost one with), could harbor such terrible feelings for him. Thus the quote reveals the true goodness—as well as the naïveté—of Finny's character.

14.

I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 12

Gene recognizes that in important ways he and Finny were one. At Finny's funeral, Gene feels like he is burying himself—or the precious former version of himself that existed when he was with Finny and Finny was alive. With Finny's death a part of Gene—his former identity—has also died.

15.

I was ready for the war, now that I no longer had any hatred to contribute.


Gene Forrester, Chapter 13

With Finny's death Gene is now free of the tormented feelings Finny evoked in him. Gene has buried his anger and envy with Finny. Gene's unfinished business with Finny has been concluded, and now Gene is emotionally drained and able to join the war.

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