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?”
“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.