A Separate Peace: Novel Summary: Chapter 8
Phineas is disgruntled by the absence of maids in the rooms and Gene disapproves of his attitude, reminding him that there is a war on. Gene falls asleep that night to the sound of Finny talking. Brinker rushes into the room the next morning to ask Gene if he is ready to enlist. Phineas, who is in the habit of being stupified by many of Gene's independent actions, is once again shocked when Gene tells him that he was planning to enlist. Gene deduces, from Finny's reaction, that Finny doesn't want him to enlist: "He wanted me around. The war then passed away from me, and dreams of enlistment and escape and a clean start lost their meaning for me" (100).
Now that he has abandoned the thought of enlisting, Gene perceives that the peace of the summer has come back to Devon for him. By avoiding enlisting, Gene makes the analogy that he has simply ducked a wave, but then gives the foreshadowing prophecy that "one wave is inevitably followed by another even larger and more powerful, when the tide is coming in" (101).
Finny says that he loves winter "and when you really love something, then it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love" (103). Gene disagrees. Gene notices that Finny would never walk with his natural, easy grace, as he did before his injury. Finny suggests that they cut class and go to the gym. Gene follows, suspecting that Finny wants to mull over his old athletic glories. Finny is horrified to learn that Gene is still not playing any sports, and has even abandoned his duty as assistant crew manager. Gene claims that "sports don't seem so important with the war on"
(106). Finny's shock is returned by Gene when Finny suddenly reveals that he doesn't believe that there is a war on. The war, according to Phineas, is one conspiracy in a long chain of conspiracies, designed to keep the younger generations from crowding the "fat old men" (107) from their jobs and their power: "There isn't any real food shortage, for instance. The men have all the best steaks delivered to their clubs now" (107). When Gene asks how Finny has come by this information, Finny says it is because he has suffered, revealing for the first time his bitterness at his injury. Gene writes of this incident: "Phineas I know had been even more startled than I to discover this bitterness in himself. Neither of us ever mentioned it again, and neither of us ever forgot that it was there" (109). Neither should the reader.
Confused, Gene goes to the pull-up bar and does thirty pull-ups while Finny counts them out. Finny tells Gene that he used to be aiming for the 1944 Olympics, but since he no longer is able to compete, he will coach Gene instead. Gene goes along, as usual, with this idea: "There was no harm in taking aim, even if the target was a dream" (109).
Although Gene doesn't believe Finny's conviction that the war doesn't exist, Gene often feels that it might as well be unreal because he and the other students never saw anything real of it. One is forced to imagine fighting in distant lands with names like Guadalcanal, and it was just as easy to do that as it was to imagine "President Roosevelt and my father and Finny's father and numbers of other large old men sitting down to porterhouse steak in some elaborate but secluded men's secret society room" (110).
Gene begins to train for the Olympics of 1944, with Phineas as his coach. One morning, while running around the school grounds, he reaches a Zen-like exhiliration of mind and body: "Buoyed up, I forgot my usual feeling of routine self-pity when working out, I lost myself, oppressed mind along with aching body; all entanglements were shed, I broke into the clear" (110). Finny perceives this and congratulates Gene. Mr. Ludsbury notices the boys and urges Gene to keep his exercise directed not at the Olympics but at the "appraoching Waterloo" (113). Phineas, angered, turns and says "No" (113), stammers something unintelligible, and walks off. Gene follows him. Finny claims that Ludsbury is too thin to be a part of the elite group who are aware that there is no approaching Waterloo.