A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 6
Gene returns to Devon to discover that the peaceful and carefree spirit of the summer has disappeared. Winter Session marks a return to rules and discipline. Without Phineas, Gene has their old room to himself. And across the hall, where Leper once lived with his trays of collected snails, a new character, Brinker Hadley, has moved in and displaced Leper to a distant room in an old building. Brinker is a class leader, a strong student and organizer of many school organizations, and Gene is not excited about his new neighbor. He also misses Finny and the glorious presence that he held that previous summer.
Athletically, Gene has gone from a vigorous blitzball participant to
assistant senior crew manager. He is under the direction of Cliff Quackenbush, a mature fellow classmen who is unknown to Gene, except that there "was something wrong about him" (68). We immediately perceive that the two don't get along and Gene doesn't take kindly to Quackenbush's gruff orders. They begin to argue and Gene realizes that Quackenbush is simply disliked by everyone and states: "I didn't want to add to his humiliations; I even sympathized with his trembling, goaded egotism he could no longer contain, the furious arrogance which sprang out now at the mere hint of opposition from someone he had at last found whom he could consider inferior to himself" (70-71). Quackenbush, however, continues to argue and goad Gene until the two begin wrestling and both fall into the river. Gene claims that he fought Quackenbush partially in defense of the absent Finny, whom Quackenbush could never equal, and partially for himself.
Soaking wet, Gene then encounters Mr. Ludsbury, the Master for the Winter Session, who accuses Gene of taking advantage (along with the other boys) of the situation during the Summer Term and attempting to get away with breaking the rules while the normal faculty was on vacation. Gene remains speechless (unlike Finny) to the reprimand, and Ludsbury informs him that he has a long-distance call. It is Phineas who has called and Gene speaks to him over the phone, detecting only friendliness in the voice of his old friend, who has called to see how school is going. Finny is dumbfounded to hear that Gene's only involvement with sports is as assistant crew manager. But Gene says that he is too busy for sports to Phineas, and he writes: "They were barred from me, as though when Dr. Stanpole said, 'Sports are finished' he had been speaking of me" (76). Phineas, angry, says "Listen, pal, if I can't play sports, you're going to play them for me" (77). At the chapter's end, Gene writes: "I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become part of Phineas" (77).