A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 11
A disturbed Gene returns to Devon and yearns to see Phineas: "With him there was no conflict except between athletes" (144). He finds Finny and his other classmates in the midst of a snowball fight, and joins in the fray. All loyalties are betrayed until everyone begins to throw at Finny. Afterwards, when asked about the danger of playing around on his leg, Finny says he can feel it getting stronger, and Gene is relieved.
Gene, who has long treated his southern background mockingly, claims: "now I was acquiring, I felt, a sense of my own real authority and worth, I had had many new experiences and I was growing up" (148). Brinker enters Gene's room and asks about Leper. Gene tries to avoid the question, saying that Leper is Absent Without Leave. Brinker and Phineas are curious, and press further. Brinker ponders: "He must be out of his mind to do a thing like that. I'll bet he cracked up, didn't he?" Gene concedes that, indeed, that is the case. Upon hearing about Leper, Finny can no longer persist with the fantasy that the war doesn't exist. Gene writes: "Now the facts were re-established, and gone were all the fantasies, such as the Olympic Games for A.D. 1944, closed before they had ever been opened" (150).
The war and its necessary preparations consumes Devon, on whose campus it is now a common sight to see a recruiting officer. Many of Gene's classmates become involved. Brinker comes up with plans that would connect him to the army, but would keep him from the actual fighting. One day Brinker pulls Gene aside and accuses him of not enlisting because he pities Finny. "He's crippled and that's that," Brinker says, "He's got to accept it and unless we start acting perfectly natural about it, even kid him about it once in a while, he never will" (152). Gene disagrees. Brinker then says: "it wouldn't do you any harm, you know, if everything about Finny's accident was cleared up and forgotten," the third (the second from Brinker) allusion to Gene's being responsible for Finny's accident. Disturbed and defensive, Gene asks what he means, but Brinker shrugs and says that nobody knows what he means, "unless you know" (152).
While being helped with his Latin, Phineas tells Gene that he doesn't believe in Caesar: "Naturally I don't believe books and I don't believe teachers, but I do believe-it's important after all for me to believe you. Christ, I've got to believe you, at least. I know you better than anybody" (154-55). He continues to say that he didn't completely believe Gene about Leper's condition until he actually saw Leper hiding in the bushes outside of the chapel: "He didn't say a damn word. He looked at me like I was a gorilla or something and then he ducked into Mr. Carhart's office" (155).
This confirms Finny's belief, and the two laugh about it.
Later that night Brinker and three cohorts enter Gene and Finny's room and hustle them half-roughly to the empty Assembly Hall. Ten other members of the senior class await them there, dressed in graduation robes. Gene suspects some prank and is annoyed, until it is discovered by both Gene and Finny that this is a trial to determine what happened at the tree, a more serious interrogation than Brinker's previous attempt in the Butt Room. Phineas is questioned and he seems to be protecting Gene, saying: "ever since then I've had a feeling that the tree did it by itself" (161). Finny and Gene confuse the details of whether or not Gene was in the tree when Finny fell.
Brinker realizes that Leper was watching on that day and could be a potential witness. Phineas informs Brinker that Leper is at Devon, that he saw him this morning, and Leper is immediately sent for. He is brought back, looking energetic. Leper describes the scene in a voice that Gene perceives as falsely confident. Leper says that the two boys were silhoutted against the sun on that evening and that they were both dark figures on the limb one of them holding the trunk of the tree: " 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" (168). When Brinker asks if the one who
fell first was Finny, Leper refuses to implicate himself in the matter any further: "You always did take me for a fool, didn't you? But I'm no fool any more. I know when I have information that might be dangerous" (168).
Brinker continues to press Leper, who continues to refuse to say anymore, until Finny interrupts everyone by saying that he doesn't care. He heads toward the door and Gene and Brinker call to him, Brinker saying that they haven't got all the facts yet, upon which Finny, now crying, shouts: "You get all your facts! You collect every f--ing fact that there is in the world!" With this he leaves the empty hall and everyone hears him fall down the staircase.