A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 5
After the fall, Phineas is in the infirmary with a shattered leg. Gene
avoids the endless discussions of the wounded Finny and nobody suspects him of acting maliciously. He states: "I spent as much time as I could alone in our room, trying to empty my mind of every thought, to forget where I was, even who I was" (53-54). One evening he decides to put on Finny's clothes and, standing in front of the mirror, he proclaims: "I was Phineas, Phineas to the life. . . it seemed, standing there in Finny's triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again" (54).
The school doctor, Dr. Stanpole, urges Gene to go visit Phineas in the infirmary. Gene is horrified at the news that Finny will never be able to play sports again. He begins to cry and Dr. Stanpole urges him to be hopeful and to go console Phineas, who needs assistance in facing the consequences of his injury. Gene learns that Finny has asked to see him, which scares him as well.
Gene musters the nerve to go visit Phineas. Feigning innocence, he
nervously asks Finny what happened at the tree: "How did you fall, how could you fall off like that?" (57). Finny simply says that he fell and Gene lies, saying that he tried to reach for him but could not grab Finny in time. Gene asks him if he remembers what caused him to fall and Finny says he must have just lost his balance, but admits to having a strange feeling: "I did have this idea, this feeling that when you were standing there beside me, y- I don't know, I had a kind of feeling. But you can't say anything for sure from just feelings. And this feeling doesn't make any sense. It was a crazy idea, I must have been delirious. So I just have to forget it" (58). Finny then apologizes for having his suspicions of what Gene did, indicating that he would never accuse Gene because he would never believe that Gene would do something so awful. Gene, feeling terrible, is about to confess when Dr. Stanpole enters the room.
The Summer Session ends and Gene goes home for a month's vacation. Before returning back to Devon, he travels to Finny's home in Boston. Finny, in his bedroom and still in a cast, is pleased to see him. Under great emotional duress, Gene confesses to causing the accident. Finny doesn't believe him and tells him to shut up. He becomes so bothered by Gene's insistence that he says he will kill Gene if he doesn't shut up, to which Gene frantically responds: "You see! Kill me! Now you know what it is! I did it because I felt like that! Now you know yourself!" (62). Finally, in a weary voice, Finny tells Gene to go away. Gene states: "It struck me then that I was injuring him again. It occurred to me that this could be an even deeper injury than what I had done before" (62).
Gene leaves, trying to cover up his confession by citing the long train ride as the reason for his strange behavior. Finny, who will not be returning to Devon for a while, asks Gene if he is going to start living by the rules. Gene tells Finny that he would never do that, but admits to the readers that his statement "was the most false thing, the biggest lie of all" (63).