A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 2
The next morning Mr. Prud'homme, the substitue Master for the school's summer term, attempts to reproach the two boys for missing dinner the night before. But Finny, possessed with irresistible charm and charisma, talks their way out of punishment so that "as Mr. Prud'homme looked at him and listened to the scatterbrained eloquence of his explanation, he could be seen rapidly losing his grip on sternness" (14). That summer marked a term of relaxed authority by the Masters in contrast to the strict regulations imposed during the fall and winter terms. Gene attributes the tolerance to two factors: Finny- "The Devon faculty had never before experienced a student who combined a calm ignorance of the rules with a winning urge to do good, who seemed to love the school truly and deeply, and never more than when he was breaking the regulations" (16); secondly, the sixteen year-old boys reminded the faculty of the peace that "the war was being fought to preserve" (17).
The boys attend a tea given at the Headmaster's house and Phineas wears a pink shirt, proclaiming it as an emblem for the Allied bombing of Central Europe, and, because of this, once again escapes being reprimanded for his bold actions. During the tea, Finny talks at great length, but without much knowledge, of the war and it is discovered that he is also wearing a school tie for a belt. To Gene's astonishment, Finny talks his way out of punishment for this transgression as well: "I wore this, you see, because it goes with the shirt and it all ties in together-I didn't mean that to be a pun, I don't think they're very funny, especially in polite company do you?" (20). After Finny escapes punishment, Gene is surprised to feel a bit disappointed. He tries to rationalize it: "That was because I just wanted to see some more excitement; that must have been it" (21).
They leave the tea, Gene feeling proud to have Finny for his best friend, and Finny suggests they jump from the tree again. Finny admits that he doesn't believe that Central Europe was bombed and Gene agrees: "Bombs in Central Europe were completely unreal to us here, not because we couldn't imagine it-a thousand newspaper photographs and newsreels had given us a pretty accurate idea of such a sight-but because our place here was too fair for us to accept something like that" (23). Finny suggests that the two jump from the tree together, forming the "Suicide Society of the Summer Session" (24). On the limb over the water, Gene loses his balance and nearly falls, and Finny grabs him to keep him from tumbling to the bank below. They jump together (rather than separately, as at the end of the first chapter) and later, after dinner, Gene is shaken by the fact that Finny had practically saved his life.