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A Separate Peace Chapter 2 Summary

Instructor: Lauren Boivin

Lauren has taught English at the university level and has a master's degree in literature.

This lesson provides an overview of chapter 2 in 'A Separate Peace,' by John Knowles. In this chapter, we learn more about Finny and Gene and we see that their relationship is not completely untroubled.

Finny Talks His Way Out

In chapter 1 of A Separate Peace, we saw Finny talk Gene into jumping out of the tree by the river (which is against the rules) and coercing him into skipping dinner (also against the rules). Chapter two opens as the boys are confronted for not going to dinner.

Gene remains silent throughout the encounter, while Finny talks cheerfully to Mr. Prud'homme, who accuses them of missing 'nine meals in two weeks.' With charming honesty, Finny relates 'we had been swimming in the river, then there had been a wrestling match, then there was that sunset that anybody would want to watch...' As Finny goes on, Gene sees Mr. Prudhomme 'rapidly losing his grip on sternness.' All of the teacher's consternation dissolves into 'a sort of amazed laugh' at the end of Finny's narration, and the boys are left with no consequences for their rule breaking.

Careless Peace

While the teachers at Devon 'snapped at the heels of the seniors, driving and molding and arming them for the war,' they were treating Gene and his classmates with more indulgence than they ever had. Gene suspects this is because the younger classes 'reminded them of what peace was like' while world was in the throes of World War II. In their youth, theirs are some of the only 'lives which were not bound up with destruction.'

This chapter takes place in the summer of 1942, during which Allied forces were adopting the practice of bombing heavily populated, non-military targets in Germany. It was a time of much death and destruction. These young kids, away at school in rural New Hampshire, were some of the few who were able to feel a 'careless peace' despite the violence rocking the rest of the world.

WWII Bombing
WWII Bombing

A Note of Discord Between Gene and Finny

Despite the deep friendship between Gene and Finny, it becomes obvious that not all is smooth and well. The Upper Middlers, as their age group is called, have a formal reception in the headmaster's house with several of the faculty. All the boys are in their best attire and on their best behavior. Finny, while talking animatedly to one teacher and his wife, unbuttons his suit coat to reveal that he is wearing his school tie for a belt to hold up his pants. In an elite, private school, the school tie was held in reverence. To use it as a belt would be practically sacrilegious.

Watching from a distance, Gene can see that Finny is about to get in trouble. He finds himself 'unexpectedly excited' at the thought. When Finny gets away with this infraction just as he does with all the other ones, Gene feels 'a stab of disappointment.' Gene notices his disappointment and quickly tries to explain it away: 'I just wanted to see some more excitement; that must have been it.' The reader is left less than satisfied with this explanation, however, and one begins to suspect Gene may have some deep but latent animosity for Finny.

The Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session

Finny again coerces Gene into jumping out of the high tree into the river. Gene never tells Finny that he doesn't want to do it; he only responds to him with sarcasm. Tellingly, he also explains to us, 'it was only long after that I recognized sarcasm as the protest of people who are weak.' When it came time to climb the tree, Gene was 'rigid' and did so 'stiffly,' but still did not say he didn't want to do it.

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