Gene and Finny in A Separate Piece

Gene and Finny in A Separate Piece

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In the novel A Separate Peace, the author John Knowles creates a unique relationship between the two main characters Gene Forrester and Phineas, also known as Finny. The boys have a love hate relationship, which becomes the base of the problems throughout the book. The setting of this novel, a preparatory school in New Hampshire known as Devon, creates a peaceful environment where World War will not corrupt the boys. The boys might be protected from the war, but they are not protected from each other. Throughout the book Finny manipulates Gene. These reoccurring manipulations cause Gene to follow in Finny's footsteps and begin to live through Finny. The lives of the two boys change dramatically when an accident occurs. Instead of Gene living through Finny, Finny begins to live through Gene.
In the beginning to the middle of the book Gene lives through Finny. ‘"Come on,' drawled Finny from below, ‘stop standing there showing off.'…‘Jump!'"(Knowles 9). Finny thought of an extremely adventurous idea. He decided that he wanted to jump out of a tree into the river below. Finny also wanted the other boys that were with him to jump out of the tree. After Finny jumped he attempted to persuade Gene to follow his lead and jump out of the tree. Gene, a very conservative individual, did not even dream of ever jumping out of the tree but Finny got his way. Gene climbed the tree and jumped into the river because Finny manipulated him to. ‘"Studying! You know, books. Work. Examinations'" (Knowles 49). Finny has come to tell Gene that one of the boys named Leper has finally decided to jump out of the tree into the river. Gene finally explodes and starts screaming at Finny. Gene tells Finny that he needs to study for the French final and that he cannot be wasting his time with a silly game. At this moment in time, Finny finally realized that Gene actually has to study in order to get good grades. Finny always thought that school for Gene came just as easily as sports did for him. When Finny realizes this he tells Gene that he has to study. ‘"Don't move from that desk. It's straight A's for you'"(Knowles 50). All of a sudden Gene became perplexed. He could not understand that Finny was actually telling him to stay home and study.

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This event confused Gene so much that he ended up going to watch Leper jump from the tree. ‘"Wait just a minute. I'm coming'"(Knowles 51). Once again Finny could manipulate Gene into going or doing what Finny wants him to do. "Going there risked exploitation, destroyed the studying I was going to do for an important test the next morning…it also involved the kind of long labored bicycle ride I hated. ‘All right' I said"(Knowles 37). Finny has just broken the school swimming record but makes Gene promise not to tell a soul. Finny decides that swimming in a pool is not good enough, that he wants to go to the beach. Even though Gene has an enormous trigonometry test to study for and he never disobeys the rules, Gene still goes because Finny manipulates him. Gene's going to the beach causes him to fail his test. This is the first failing grade he has ever received and it is all because Finny manipulates him to go to the beach even though he really does not want to. Gene's failing the test finally makes him consider that Finny keeps trying to ruin his grades so that he cannot be top of the class. This brings many feeling of hatred towards Finny into Gene.
Finny has manipulated Gene so much that Finny has become part of Gene. "In any case I was already late for my next appointment"(Knowles 67) Before Gene became such good friends with Finny, he would never consider being late for something or not even showing up but Finny has begun to rub off just a little bit on Gene. Gene has an appointment to go see Brinker, one of his classmates, but he decides not to show up. Then he has to go down to the Crew House to begin boating, but he shows up late. It would be understandable if Finny were with Gene that this could happen, but Gene is all by himself. No one could manipulate him. Gene decides by himself to be late and skip the meeting. This demonstrates how Gene is beginning to take on some of Finny's traits. "I was Phineas, Phineas to the life"(Knowles 54). One day, when getting dressed for dinner, Gene decides to wear Finny's clothes to dinner. Gene put on Finny's pants, shoes and a ridiculous pink shirt. When Gene looks into the mirror, he sees Finny staring back at him. The clothes are not the only thing that makes Gene feel like Finny, there is also the expression Gene has on his face. "I even had his humorous expression in my face, his sharp, optimistic awareness."(Knowles 54). When Gene sees Finny in himself he suddenly feels enlightened. He feels that nothing else could get in his way anymore and that every thing will be perfect. This demonstrates how Gene feels about Finny. Gene believes that Finny is perfect and that if he becomes Finny, nothing will be wrong about him, he too will become perfect. ‘" And could you tell me how and why you fell into the river?' ‘I slipped'"(Knowles 73). Gene just got into a fight with Quackenbush, the crew manager, and gets pushed into the river. When Gene comes sauntering back to his dorm, he comes across one of the teachers, Mr. Ludsbury. When Mr. Ludsbury asks Gene what happen, he says that he slipped. Normally Gene would never lie to a teacher. Finny is known for making up extravagant lies and being able to convince teachers to believe them. Even though Gene's lie is not unbelievable he still tells a lie. This becomes another example of Finny's daring personality shining through Gene's conservative personality.
After a horrible accident occurs, which involves Gene bouncing Finny off the tree and Finny breaking his leg, the tables turn. Instead of Gene living through Finny, Finny begins living through Gene. ‘"The two of them looked as black-as black as death standing up there with fire burning all around them'"(Knowles 166). Leper begun to describe what he saw on day when Finny fell from the tree. Leper cannot tell who was located where on the tree limb. He says that the boys looked black because the sun was shining so brightly. The boys merge together when they are up on the tree. The silhouettes of their bodies show that they become equal. As soon as Finny falls from the tree, Gene stops living through Finny, and Finny starts living through Gene. ‘"Listen pal if I can't play sports you're going to play them for me'"(Knowles 77). When Finny fell from the tree he broke his leg. This terrible accident prevented him from playing sport anymore. Since Finny could not do what he loved most, he decides that Gene is going to fulfill his needs to play sports. Finny starts training Gene to replace him. Finny begins to live through Gene when he makes Gene play sports. ‘"Did I ever tell you,' he began in a husky tone, ‘that I used to be aiming for the Olympics?'"(Knowles 109). Finny had been hoping to compete in the 1944 Olympics, although due to the war this dream is unlikely to occur. Gene becomes Finny's substitute when it came to sports.
Throughout the book a large transformation happens, although some things stay the same. In the beginning of the book, Gene lives through Finny, but by the end, Finny begins living through Gene. Finny still keeps on manipulating. John Knowles displays how people can change tremendously throughout one year. Sometimes change can lead to positive outcomes, but other times it can result in negative outcomes.
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