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Rory Book Discussions > A Separate Peace Chapters 1-4: At Devon

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message 1: by Alison, the guru of grace (last edited Mar 04, 2008 10:59AM) (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Discuss the summer session at Devon, 1942, and the friendship between Gene and Phineas (Finny)

message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda | 4 comments Just a quick question as this is the first book that I will be reading with the club....there are two books for each month, is that correct? March's picks are A Separate Peace and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; is that also correct?

I have read A Separate Peace twice in the past and I love it. Such a huge story told in such a skinny little book! I'm excited to begin reading it again with my (slightly) older viewpoint.

message 3: by Alison, the guru of grace (last edited Mar 05, 2008 11:24AM) (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Correct, Amanda.

We generally pick one classic and one contemporary novel. I guess ASP is the contemporary (1959) and ATGIB is the classic (1943). Or, more correctly, this month we chose a contemporary novel first, and then picked one that would be a nice companion piece. Sometimes there is a general theme (like February was romance month). It's generally outlined in the thread for each month's nominations.

message 4: by Christine (last edited Mar 05, 2008 08:06PM) (new)

Christine | 5 comments I first read this book in freshman honors English class, and I seem to recall our teacher had us read the first word and the last word of the book before we started reading it, then we kept that "phrase" in mind as we made our way through the book. Or maybe it was the first sentence and last sentence.

Either way, I'm not sure if he knew something we didn't about the author's intentions or symbolism, but it was an interesting consideration, one that I sometimes use with other books just for fun.

message 5: by Alison, the guru of grace (last edited Mar 09, 2008 08:49PM) (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod

I was lucky enough to read this book on a day that I had jury duty (I didn't ignore any important happenings, there was THAT much down time--hours of waiting plus a two hour lunch break). I will begin by saying, that while this is not my favorite story or type of story, I can say that the writing was beautiful and I felt most of the time like I was reading a poem more than a narrative, i.e. such as describing New England elms as "those most bankerish and Republican of trees."

Here are a few questions, I think with significance.

1. At what moment are Finny and Gene best friends?

2. What is Finny’s pink shirt an emblem of? What does Finny wear as a belt and what does it symbolize according to him?

3. What game does Finny invent? What does this game say about Finny’s character?

4. What happens to Finny at the end of this section? How did Gene react?

message 6: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Alison, I loved that line about the bankerish and Republican trees too.

I've only read the first 3 chapters so I can't answer all your questions but here is what I have so far.

Finny and Gene are cemented as best friends when Gene is the only other guy to jump into the river from the tree limb. But they were roommates before that, so I'm betting they were already friends. It's interesting to me the way that young Gene almost idolizes Finny at the same time older Gene, who's telling the story, resents him. I can hear both sentiments in every description of Finny's actions.

I don't really get how the pink shirt was an emblem of the bombing of Central Europe and I got the idea that the "reason" he gave for wearing his tie as a belt was just to escape punishment. But maybe someone can explain this to me better.

message 7: by Arielle (new)

Arielle | 120 comments I am enjoying reading this book too. Sarah, you're totally right, with the idolizing then resenting. He's got some kind of hero worship going on, at least until.........

he discovers that he and Finny are competing and that Finny is trying to bring him down by wrecking his academic career. My question at this point was, was Phineas really that way? Or does Gene condemning him that way say more about Gene than it does Phineas?

message 8: by Erin (new)

Erin | 76 comments The last time I read this book was back in high school, and I'm utterly unable to remember how the story goes or how this conflict is resolved. It's like I'm reading it for the first time.

On Alison's Qs 2 and 3 above - seems to me that Finny just wanted to wear the pink shirt and the Devon School tie as his belt - he created reasons for his choices, mostly to satisfy those who would question his actions, but not real explanations of what motivated him. And when he created blitzball, he unconsciously invented a game which brought his own athletic gifts to their highest pitch. I really enjoyed the description of the first game, with Finny's spur of the moment explanations of the game's rules. His charisma carried him through just about all his interactions.


Re Q4, Finny falls out of the tree after Gene jostles the limb. I'm still undecided if it was purposeful on Gene's part, or if adult Gene is attributing an evil motive to what was really just a consequence of 2 boys being on a jiggly limb. I appreciated Sarah's post above - as I read ahead, I'll be remembering that this narrative is told by adult Gene and that could have effects on how people and situations are presented. And I'm thinking - like Arielle - that Gene's suspicion of Finny may be revealing his own motivations rather than Finny's - We were even after all, even in was what you had in your heart that counted. And I had detected that Finny's was a den of lonely, selfish ambition. He was no better than I was, no matter who won all the contests....I said nothing, my mind exploring the new dimensions of isolation around me. Those passages are pulled from a span of 6 pages in chapter 4, but I keep thinking about them as I consider the relationship between Gene and Finny.

message 9: by Alison, the guru of grace (last edited Mar 11, 2008 07:44AM) (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
I think chapter one which starts with Gene back at Devon after fifteen years sets up the friendship as a pretty typical one. I think it's important that Finny is the one urging Gene to jump. Also important, and you'll see this lots...there's a lot of symbolism in the activities these boys do at Devon--jumping out of the tree as a pre-cursor to the jumping out of whatever they will soon be doing as soldiers. This is the end of their innocence, and their games and contests all seem to mimick war activities.

I've been reading some commentaries, so I'm not going to comment on the questions for now. I will just say there is a lot of emphasis on the nature of Gene & Finney's relationship (as you guys were mentioning above)...Gene finding himself doing things that he may not really want to, being unable to assert himself over Finney's influence. There is also a lot of talk of homosexual undertones in this friendship--not sure what anyone thinks of that. I think there is a mutual admiration for each other, tinged with competition and perhaps jealousy...more so on Gene's part.

message 10: by Marlene (new)

Marlene (rivera_bookjunkie) Definitely there is some jealousy on Gene's part but I laughed so much during the first couple of chapters 'cause I can't help to like Finney. I couldn't believe that he got away with wearing the school tie as a belt. It's just crazy that there are really people like that, that can B.S. there way out of any situation. I really think that the author made clear that point (not that that's the main point)... but that was great.

message 11: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca | 74 comments I've been going back and forth in my mind to decide if I think Finney and Gene are ever really best friends. They have a complex relationship and as Alison stated there's a lot of emphasis on that relationship. I find myself liking and disliking both characters at different times. Once again, this is a book I wouldn't have picked up had I not been apart of this group and once again I am enjoying myself reading and discussing it.

message 12: by Angie (last edited Mar 12, 2008 09:22AM) (new)

Angie | 512 comments I read this book in high school but don't really remember so I love that it is all new to me. I found it interesting when Gene as an adult first goes back to school to look for the tree, only to discover how much smaller it is then he remembers. That happens all the time when I go back to places I was as a child. Gene reminds me of what a lot of adolescents do, try to stay in the hip crowd. For him it is trying to keep up with Finny. He does everything Finny wants, including hurting his studies. Gene is always expecting, maybe even wanting Finny to get in trouble for the things he does but Finny never gets any discipline. I feel like Gene can't help but be shocked and disappointed in this, one of those things where you realize life isn't fair. I think that when Finny falls from the tree, Gene feels that this chain that has been holding him is gone and then he jumps freely from the tree with no fear and possibly feeling he is in charge of himself?

message 13: by Liz (new)

Liz | 35 comments At first it seems that Finny sort of pics Gene because he seems kind of like a weak link. One that will do what he says. Someone Finny can push around. It is interesting to find out though that Finny just wants Gene to open up and have some fun and not take it all so seriously. I like how the author shows how it is hard for us, even as teens, to believe that people are friends with us just because they really like us. Not that they want to sabotage us, as Gene becomes paranoid about Finny doing in the beginning.

message 14: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Really good comments, everyone. Your insights really help me to enjoy the book even more!

message 15: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany I've been avoiding these threads because I haven't started A Separate Peace yet, but I'm getting my copy tomorrow from my Dad so I'll finally be able to participate. Yay!

message 16: by Sarah (new)

Sarah (songgirl7) Yeah I'm kind of glad nothing's posted yet on ATGIB because I won't be getting my copy until next week!

message 17: by Alison, the guru of grace (last edited Mar 13, 2008 10:46AM) (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Everyone's comments above seem to be congruent with what I've read in the commentaries...Gene treasures his friendship with Finney, but their relationship is tempered with Gene's jealousy--be it subconscious or overt. I think we are to believe that Finney is not jealous or competitive, making him morally superior to Gene--another reason for Gene to be jealous.

The blitzball is significant also because, like Finney, you can compete and excel, but there doesn't have to be a winner. And as Erin says, it showcases more of Finney's charm.

P.S.: I'm stealing this info! :) I just thought it was interesting. Thank you all for chiming in. Don't worry about getting a late start.

message 18: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Well I was exhausted just reading about Phineas after these four chapters! He definitely has a larger than life personality that makes him irresistible to people. This part made me laugh out loud: The beach was hours away by bicycle, forbidden, completely out of all bounds. Going there risked expulsion, destroyed the studying I was going to do for an important test the next morning, blasted the reasonable amount of order I wanted to maintain in my life, and it also involved the kind of long, labored bicycle ride I hated. ‘All right,’ I said.

message 19: by Sara W (new)

Sara W (sarawesq) I think it's difficult to be really close friends with someone who you are jealous of and competitive with, and that seems to be what Gene is dealing with in these chapters:

"My brain exploded. He minded, despised the possibility that I might be the head of the school. There was a swift chain of explosions in my brain, one certainty after another blasted - up like a detonation went the idea of any best friend, up went affection and partnership and sticking by someone and relying on someone absolutely in the jungle of a boys' school - in this world - whom I could trust."

I guess this resonates with me because I went through similar jealousy/competitive feelings at school. Luckily it never came to pushing someone out of a tree, but I had one good friend move away and another skip a grade ahead of me, and a large part of me was happy because it thinned out the competition. Sad thing is, I think my situation was similar to Gene's - I think the jealousy and competitiveness was probably all one-sided.

I did get the feeling, like Alison said, that Finney wasn't really jealous of Gene, and I could see how that would make Gene feel even worse.

message 20: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany I also felt that Finny wasn't jealous. Maybe there was a little rivalry, but nothing to the degree that Gene imagined.

I loved this line too: "He probably thought anything you were good at came without effort. He didn't know yet that he was unique." My husband is very much this way and I have to remind him of it.

message 21: by Joanie (new)

Joanie | 197 comments This is a re-read for me but I've really forgotten a lot of it (except the major events) so I'm having to spend more time actually reading it than I anticipated.

I don't believe that Finney is trying to sabotage Gene. I think he's projecting his feelings onto Finney and assuming that because he resents Finney, Finney resents him too. Finney keepys reminding me of another character but I can't pinpoint it.

I didn't really get how the pink shirt was an emblem of the bombing. It seemed like Finney's mother sent him the shirt and he decided that he was going to wear it and was going to make up a reason why he was wearing it because he knew people wouldn't question him. He's the type of guy people want to follow which is clear when he makes up the game of blitzball and changes the rules as he goes along and no one even questions him. That said I don't think Finney has sinister motives, I think he wants to have fun and wants people who will keep up with him.

The best friend stuff makes me laugh in a way. I just remember how crucial that title was when I was younger and how in elementary school we would rank people as 1st best friend, 2nd best friend etc. Even in high school I remember being so upset when my "best friend" (who is still really my best friend today) made a comment about never being able to stay mad at your best friend and that she could never stay mad at Michelle (notice that is not my name, clearly I'm still even holding onto this today!)

I think Gene is taken aback when Finney calls him his best friend and I think it's more sincere coming from Finney whereas Gene just goes along with it, once again.

The falling from the tree thing still has me a little confused. It didn't seem to me that Gene made Finney fall but he certainly didn't do anything to stop him from falling (unlike when Finney stops Gene from falling and Gene assumes he's trying to take him down with him-I really don't like Gene in these early chapters) Maybe because he really did want Finney to fall he feels more responsibility.

message 22: by Alison, the guru of grace (new)

Alison | 1282 comments Mod
Thoughts on this section...

"Crucial to the novel’s power, the facts of the event remain mysterious—to both the reader and the characters involved. We never know the extent to which the incident is deliberate; the jostling of the branch seems to arise more from Gene’s hesitation than from any committed action. Nonetheless, the fall answers a deep wish in Gene, and there are times when Gene (and the reader as well) cannot help but assign a certain purposefulness—whether conscious or not—to the shaking of the branch."

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