A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 12
Doctors, coaches, and teachers are summoned to the side of wounded Phineas. They carry him from the hall in a chair. Gene writes: "Once again I had the desolating sense of having all along ignored what was finest in him. . . I didn't think he knew how to act or even how to feel as the object of help. . . My aid alone had never seemed to him in the category of help. . . Phineas had thought of me as an extension of himself" (171). Dr. Stanpole tells Gene that Finny has re-broken his leg.
Gene sits outside of the Infirmary room window on that cold night while Dr. Stanpole, Phil Latham (the wrestling coach), and a nurse sit up with Finny. Waiting alone in the darkness, Gene feels goofy and laughs at the train of his thought. When everyone leaves, Gene climbs through Finny's window. Finny, upon realizing that it is Gene, is furious: "You want to break something in me! Is that why you're here!" He struggles to get out of bed so that he can attack Gene, but, unable to, he collapses to the floor. Gene can only repeat that he is sorry, and climbs back out the window without
helping Phineas back into his bed.
Gene walks back across the campus at night, feeling that the familiar landscape is inscribed with an indecipherable message: "I felt that I was not, never had been and never would be a living part of this overpoweringly solid and deeply meaningful world around me" (178). He sleeps beneath the stadium ramp.
The next morning Dr. Stanpole tells Gene to bring some of Finny's clothes and toilet things to the Infirmary. Gene musters his nerve and re-visits his friend. As Finny goes through his things, Gene notices that his hands are shaking. Gene tells Finny that he tried to confess to his deed when Finny was in Boston and Finny says he remembers, but changes the subject, asking why Gene came last night. Gene says "I thought I belonged here" (181). Phineas then confesses to Gene of his tireless efforts during the past year to get recruited with a broken leg. But nobody wanted him, which is why he maintained the illusion that there wasn't any war. Gene tells Phineas that he would be no good in the war even if he didn't have a busted leg: "you'd get confused and borrow one of their uniforms, and you'd lend them one of yours. Sure, that's just what would happen. You'd get things so scrambled up nobody would know who to fight any more" (182).
Finally, Phineas confronts Gene about what he did at the tree: "It wasn't anything you really felt against me, it wasn't some kind of hate you've felt all along. It wasn't anything personal" (183), he half asks and half tells himself. Gene answers: "It was just some ignorance inside me, some crazy thing inside me, something blind, that's all it was" (183). Phineas, crying, says he believes him.
Gene leaves and goes through the motions of a typical schoolday at Devon. He returns to the Infirmary to see Phineas, and is confronted by a grim Dr. Stanpole, who says to him: "This is something I think boys of your generation are going to see a lot of, and I will have to tell you about it now. Your friend is dead" (185). Stanpole struggles to tell Gene that during the setting of the bone, some marrow must have gotten into Finny's bloodstream and stopped his heart. Gene writes: "I did not cry then or ever about Finny. I did not cry even when I stood watching him being lowered into his family's strait-laced burial ground outside of Boston. I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case" (186).