Gene states that the two places he wants to see at Devon School were "fearful sights." Why does he use this term? What is fearful about marble stairs? About a tree? If they are "fearful," why does Gene want to see them?
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These sights were the setting for two of Gene's most traumatic memories. The tree from which Finny fell.... and the marble staircase where he did the same. When Gene looks for the tree by the river, it appears to have a special meaning to him. "It had loomed in my memory as a huge lone spike dominating the riverbank, forbidding as an artillery piece, high as a beanstalk," he says, his similes characterizing the tree as a great, forbidding mass (5). Yet, when he sees it, he finds it "absolutely smaller, shrunken with age," and nothing like the great giant he had remembered. Perhaps the tree had actually shrunk since Gene's time; but this is a more apt example how things can be obscured or emphasized in the memory via emotional factors, and a good introduction of the theme of memory versus reality.