A Separate Peace - Phineas and Gene

Phineas and Gene: A Comparative Study
To be an opposite of something or someone means to be the furthest from being like that person or object. One can say this for Gene and Phineas in the short story "Phineas" by John Knowles. Through reading the story one comes to see that Gene is an exact opposite of Phineas. One could say that Gene is insecure, envious, an admirer, intellectual and vindictive. In contrast, Phineas is unconcerned, self- assured, influential, outgoing and athletic.
The story begins, and we are first introduced to Gene, who narrates the story. It is quickly apparent that Gene is insecure. An example of this occurs when he finds out that he is room mates with Phineas. "I had seen him at a distance around the school the previous winter, and gotten the impression he was bigger than I."(J. Knowles, 100) This quotation shows our first introduction with Gene's insecure character. One can see this because he immediately assumed Phineas to be "bigger than I,"(100) instead of waiting to meet him and then forming an opinion that maybe Phineas would be pleasant. His first impression of him was as a bully, therefore, we think that Gene is afraid of him, which would make him insecure. Another example of Gene's insecurity occurs just after Gene and Phineas meet. "That first day, standing in our comfortless room amid his clothes, he began to talk and I began to listen."(100) This quotation shows that Gene was too afraid to say what he wanted. He did not have enough courage even to interject when Phineas was talking. This shows that Gene was insecure about his ideas and point of view.
Throughout the story we also see Gene to be very envious of Phineas. An example of this occurs when Phineas and Gene were discussing sex. " I wasn't going to be opened up like that suitcase, to have him yank out all my thoughts and feelings and scatter them underfoot."(101) This quote shows how Gene was reluctant to tell his stories to Phineas. He did not feel that Phineas should know about him. This would leave us to believe that Gene does not want to tell Phineas these stories because Gene is afraid of what Phineas might conclude. Gene may also be reluctant to tell Phineas because of his insecurities, because he may feel that his stories are not as good as Phineas's and he does not want Phineas knowing that. This would show that he is jealous of Phineas. Gene also knows he is jealous but tries to talk himself out of the thought. "He might be the best natural athlete in the school, the most popular boy, but I was winning where it counted" (105) This quotation shows how Gene actually admits that Phineas is better than him. Nevertheless, we know that it upsets him because he adds, "I was winning where it counts"(105) This shows that he just needed to add in something to try to hide his envious side. By saying that Phineas was popular and is a good athlete shows that Gene is in denial of his envious side toward Phineas.
Though Gene is envious, he is also an admirer of Phineas. An example of Gene admiring Phineas occurs after Gene gets a fair mark on his report card. "It took one hatred to overcome another. I hated him at that moment always trying to show me up, to get revenge for my procession of A's and his D's. Damn him. I jumped."(106) This quotation shows how Gene jumped just because Phineas said he should. This would prove him to be an admirer because he followed Phineas's every move. He did not do this because he loved Phineas, but because he was jealous and wanted to be like him. "I never forgot, and that evening I put on his pink shirt, neatly laundered, in a drawer."(110) This quotation shows that Gene thought highly of what Phineas wore. Even when what Phineas wore was not all that great, Gene still admired the clothing and looked up to him. Gene liked the attention that Phineas got from his clothes and, Gene tried on Phineas's clothes because he wanted to have that same apparent air of confidence that Phineas had. This constant preoccupation