A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 3

The third chapter begins with Gene disavowing any gratitude he might owe to Phineas for saving his life: “I wouldnt have been on that damn limb except for him. I wouldnt have turned around, and so lost my balance, if he hadnt been there” (25). But their Super Suicide Society is formed and attracts members. They meet every night and Phineas decrees that each meeting is to begin with Gene and Phineas jumping together from the tree. Gene hates the meetings because he is unable to overcome his fear of jumping from the tree, but he does so because “otherwise I would have lost face with Phineas, and that would have been unthinkable” (26). 

Gene notices that Finny lives by a certain set of rules, some of which include: “Never say you are five feet nine when you are five feet eight and a half,” “Always say prayers at night because it might turn out that there is a God,” and “You always win at sports” (26-27) indicative that Finny is unwilling to acknowledge defeat.

Disgusted with the prospect of playing badminton for the schools summer athletic program, Finny decides to ignore what he should be doing and invent his own game, using a medicine ball. Finny, whose athletic prowess and rebeliousness win the confidence of his cautious classmates, explains the rules (that he invents) while the game is going, much to the confusion of Gene and the others. The game is dubbed “blitzball” (29), a sport in which there are no teams, everyone is for himself, and everyone is against the ball carrier. Finny excels at his own game.

Gene says that “everyone has a moment in history which belongs to him. . . when you say to this person the world today or life or reality he will assume that you mean this moment” (32). For Gene, the moment is the war. He thinks of America in terms of war-time America, and he gives a long description of the America that he will always envision: “Nylon, meat, gasoline, and steel are rare. There are many jobs and not enough workers. The war will always be fought very far from America and it will never end. Sixteen is the key and crucial and natural age for a human being to be, and people of all other ages are ranged in an orderly manner ahead of and behind you as a harmonious setting for the sixteen-year-olds of this world” (32-33).

While fooling around in the school swimming pool, Finny decides to try to break the school record for the one hundred yard free style. Gene times him on a watch and, soon enough, Finny is the new unofficial record holder. Gene wants to call attention to the feat and make it official, but, to his surprise, Finny urges him to keep it between the two of them: “I just wanted to see if I could do it. Now I know. But I dont want to do it in public” (35). Amazed, Gene states: “It made Finny seem too unusual for-not friendship, but too unusual for rivalry. And there were few relationships among us at Devon not based on rivalry” (37).

The chapter concludes with the two friends sneaking off of school grounds to spend an afternoon and a night at the beach. Although risking expulsion if they are discovered, Gene and Finny enjoy themselves immensely on that warm summer evening. Before falling asleep in the dunes, Finny tells Gene that he is his best pal. But Gene cannot say the same in return, claiming that he was “stopped by that level of feeling, deeper than thought, which contains the truth” (40).