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On the limb, beside his friend, Gene acts instinctively, unconsciously, and expresses his anger physically by jouncing the limb, causing Finny to fall.The physical release of emotional tension suddenly frees Gene, and he jumps effortlessly, without fear, as he never could before.For the first time, Gene's sense of right and wrong comes not from bells or exams or masters, but from his own shocked soul.
With the destruction of the threat, Gene's view of the world, and of himself, is restored.
The child's self-image of himself as the center of the world is recreated.
Significantly, in describing his actions on the limb, Gene insists not that he bent his knees, but that his knees bent, as if his body were not under his control.
Again, Gene takes shelter in a childish, self-centered defense.
But Gene's sudden recognition that Finny does not want him to fail proves even more devastating.
If Finny is simply being Finny in his free, careless ways, then Gene has lost the meaning of his resentment, the energy that has been fueling his drive to succeed despite his enemy's plotting.
A Separate Peace tells the story of Gene's painful but necessary growth into adulthood, a journey of deepening understanding about his responsibility and his place in a wider world.
At the beginning of the novel, the young Gene stands unconcerned, self-absorbed, by the tree that will test his true nature.
In Devon, obedient to the rules, approved by the masters, Gene is safe, but he cannot grow.
Growth can come only through conflict and struggle, and Gene's conformity acts as a shield against such challenges.