A Separate Peace: Finny – How Things Change Essay, Research Paper
A Separate Peace: Finny – How Things Change
In the novel “A Separate Peace,” by John Knowles, a boy named Gene
visits his high school 15 years after graduating in order to find an inner peace.
While attending the private boys school during the second World War, Gene’s
best friend Phineas died and Gene knows he was partially responsible. Phineas,
or Finny as he was sometimes called, was the most popular boy in school. He was
a handsome, taunting, daredevil athlete. Gene, on the other hand, was a lonely,
self-sufficient intellectual. Somehow the two became good friends, or so Finny
thought. Gene, unfortunately, was bitten by the green-eyed monster of jealousy.
Gene just couldn’t come to grips with the idea that a person of Finny’s stature
would want to be his friend. Gene’s envy grew to a point where he was willing
to severely injure Finny for being too perfect. Unfortunately for Finny, Gene
succeeded. Finny’s seeming perfection, his strong beliefs, and his ability to
forgive trace his development throughout the novel.
Finny’s seeming perfection was the basis for Gene’s resentment towards
him. Gene thought that everything Finny did was perfect, which just upset Gene
all the more. Finny was so perfect that he didn’t care what others thought,
like when Finny wore a pink shirt as an emblem after the bombing of central
Europe. ” ‘…Pink! It makes you look like a fairy!’ ‘Does it?’ He used this
preoccupied tone when he was thinking of something more interesting than what
you had said.” One time Finny and Gene were at the swimming pool when Finny
noticed that a boy named A. Hopkins Parker had the record for the 100 yards free
style. When Finny realized that A. Hopkins Parker had graduated before they
came, he remarked, “I have a feeling I can swim faster than A. Hopkins Parker.”
He was right. Gene was ecstatic that Finny could do such a thing without any
training or anything. All Gene could say was, “You’re too good to be true.” In
certain ways he was.
Throughout the book Gene knows that Finny has some strong beliefs. The
first three he noticed were: “Never say you are five feet nine when you are
really five feet eight and a half”; “Always say some prayers at night because it
might turn out that there is a god”; and “You always win at sports.” The latter
of the three was amazing because to Finny all you had to do was play to win at a
sport. Unfortunately, this all added up to a point where jealousy overcame Gene
and caused him to injure Finny. Gene and Finny had started a Super Suicide
Society which included a jump from both Finny and Gene at the beginning of every
meeting. This time Finny came up with the idea that they both jump at the same
time. They were in the tree with Finny farther out on the jumping limb when
Gene’s “…knees bent and I jounced the limb.” Finny fell and shattered his leg.
Gene became overwhelmed by sorrow because he had caused his best friend to
shatter his leg. The most athletic person in the school could no longer play
sports. Gene eventually got up the nerve to go to Finny and tell him the truth
about causing the fall. However when he got to him it was Finny who apologized,
saying, “I’m sorry about that, Gene,” Meaning, he regretted the feeling he had
that Gene had actually caused him to fall. Finny believed that a friend would
never do a thing like that.
Finny was a great person and one of his best qualities was his ability
to forgive. Gene and Finny became friends again once Finny was able to return
to school. All seemed well until the boy in the room across the hall started to
get suspicious that Finny didn’t accidentally fall out of the tree. He wound up
tricking Gene and Phineas into going to a investigation to find out what really
happened. The investigation included the testimony of a witness who was at the
meeting when Finny fell. He said, “they moved like an engine… The one holding
on to the trunk sank for a second, up and down like a piston, and then the other
one sank and fell.” Finny realized what had happened and took off out the door,
but then slipped on the marble steps and rebroke his leg. Gene felt terrible
remorse and he hid in some bushes just so he could talk with Finny. Finny was
still upset the first time Gene was able to talk to him through the window at
the infirmary, saying, “You want to break something else in me!” Gene was able
to speak with Finny, face to face, when he was asked to bring some of Finny’s
clothes to the infirmary.
“It was some blind impulse you had in the tree there, you didn’t know
what you were doing. Was that it?”
“Yes, yes, that was it. Oh, that was it, but how can you believe that?”
“I do, I think I can believe that. I’ve gotten awfully mad sometimes
and almost forgotten what I was doing…It wasn’t anything personal.”
“No, I don’t know how to show you, how can I show you, Finny?”
“I believe you. It’s okay because I understand and I believe you.
You’ve already shown me and I believe you.” Finny forgave Gene and all was well,
at least for a little while.
Finny’s development can be seen throughout the novel by tracing his
seeming perfection, his strong beliefs, and his ability to forgive. Finny
changed from being the best athlete in the school to being the only one who
couldn’t go to the war. Finny was a very good person. Finny was a very firm
believer in what he thought was right. Finny was a very forgiving person,
believing in the forgiveness of friends. Unfortunately, Finny died due to the
negligence of the school doctor. When Finny’s leg was being set some bone
marrow escaped into his blood stream stopping his heart. When Gene heard this
news he didn’t cry. Gene felt that, along with Phineas, he himself had died,
and you don’t cry at your own funeral. Gene went back to his school to come to
grips with the fact that he was partially responsible for Finny’s death. Finny
was not perfect; D’s on his tests and bad grades show that. But to Gene, Finny
was perfect and always would be.