Chapter 10 Summary:
Gene talks about finally going into the service after he graduated, about how his time was all training and he never actually had to go to war. He goes to see Leper at his home in Vermont, and Leper is definitely changed; he is very unpleasant and bitter with Gene, and seems to have been scarred in some way by his time in the service. Leper accuses Gene of causing Finny to fall out of the tree, and reveals that he left the service because he was about to be discharged for mental health reasons. Gene gets angry and attacks Leper for his comments, then apologizes and is too embarrassed to leave immediately. After lunch, Leper and Gene go for a walk, and Gene sees that Leper really has cracked up. Leper talks nonsense, and somehow it affects Gene, who yells at Leper to stop talking, and then runs away when Leper won't.
Leper becomes a symbol for what the war does to young men like himself, especially since he has a breakdown before he even gets overseas. Leper's tale is supposed to stand for what happens to innocence when it is suddenly overwhelmed by experience or reality, and Leper is chosen to be the object of this lesson because of how untouched and peaceable he was before he left. The whole thing is rather improbable, since Leper talks and acts more like Brinker, and really bears no resemblance to his old self after the incident. There is really no indication beforehand that he would be capable of reacting in such a way, and afterward there is little sense of who he is, or at least of the character that was established before he enlisted. Leper is yet another character, like Finny, who is more symbolic than real, written to make a point than to be a believably real characterization.
One thing that Leper is able to do after his army experience is peg Gene's personality, and know what he did to Finny. Finally, naïve little Leper evaluates Gene in a more accurate way than anyone else in the book; "You always were a savage underneath," Leper tells Gene, "a swell guy, except when the chips were down" (136). The appraisal is absolutely right on, though Gene of course doesn't want to hear it. So Gene breaks out into violence, confirming Leper's statement. Gene says that he doesn't really care about Leper, and shows off his angry temperament quite a bit in this chapter. We see that Gene, for all his civility at school, still has a bit of a mean streak in him, and still has the capacity to lash out at people for nothing, like he did with Finny. Gene is unstable and unpredictable when faced with the truth, or with something that upsets him; he's not quite the nice rule-abider he wants to portray himself as, as he displays once again. This introduces the theme of appearance vs. reality, because as Gene refuses to understand his own nature, he will be unable to represent himself the way he really is.
This chapter is somewhat awkwardly written in places, like with Leper's brand-new personality on show, and with Gene's oddly motivated reaction at the end. Why Leper'sr talk disturbs Gene so much is not made clear at all; Gene doesn't say why he is so incredibly upset at it, though presumably it has something to do with him identifying with the feelings that Leper is expressing. Still, the prose in this section is rather murky, with the only reason that Gene gives for not wanting to hear it is that it has "nothing to do with [him]" (143). Does this mean that Gene feels responsible for what happened to Leper? On the other hand, how could he feel any responsibility, not having been there when Leper started going crazy, and after being a better friend to him than most of the boys at the school. Does Gene feel that he too is going crazy, which is why he doesn't want to hear it? Or is Gene simply being callous, and doesn't want to help Leper out any more? Because the motivation for Gene flipping out and running away is anything but clear, his reaction doesn't have the same power that the prose clearly intends it to have. Gene says that he "didn't want to hear any more of it. Not now or everI didn't want to hear any more of it. Ever" (143); the repetition emphasizes his sentiments, but since it is hard to figure out why he is acting like this, it is impossible to empathize. Gene's story gains most of its emotional impact through the empathy he helps his reader to feel with him, but when it is difficult to find a way to empathize with him, this emotional impact is lost.
Chapter 11 Summary:
Gene is finally back at school, and finds Finny involved in a snowball fight at the edge of campus. Gene slinks away, afraid that someone will ask him how things went with Leper, but he is caught by Finny, who pegs him with a snowball. Gene finds himself caught in the snowball fight, which, at the end, has all of them pelting Finny.
Brinker again comes to visit the boys, usually not a good sign; he gets the truth about Leper out of Gene, and is surprised at first, but then believes the news. Finny reveals during the course of the conversation that he's finished with his little fake-war talk and his attempts to keep himself in a fantasy world of his own making.
Devon again becomes swept up by the war, with a lot of recruitment and many boys planning to go into military training or military school. None of them are in a real hurry, however, as many of them are only planning on training to keep them out of combat for as long as possible. Brinker gets people in the war spirit, but is spending plenty of time making up schemes that will also keep him away from the front.
Brinker confronts Gene again, acting as a sort of youthful conscience figure. Brinker again reasserts that he knows Gene caused Finny's accident, and since Finny has to realize that he is crippled for life, they might as well make sure he understands that fact. Gene doesn't agree, and lets Brinker make his point.
After Gene has dutifully translated Finny's Latin, Brinker and pals rush into their room and drag them out to the First Building, which Brinker still has the keys to. Brinker, who is far more obsessed with Finny's accident than either Gene or Finny are, is holding some kind of inquiry into the accident, with a few other boys there to act as an examining jury. Brinker brings Leper, who was at the scene of the accident, out to speak; when Leper says that Gene did indeed push Finny, Finny freaks out and runs from the room. He falls on the marble steps outside, and re-breaks his leg.
Gene is prone to underestimating Finny and Finny's experiences, especially because of the accident. Gene would like to believe that his friend is his old jovial self, truly believing that "with him there was no conflict except between athletes," which certainly holds little truth (144). Gene doesn't even consider Finny's bitterness toward him, displayed once before, for causing him to be crippled; this is another harsh truth that Gene certainly doesn't want to face, since they are so close and so dependent on each other. In this chapter, Gene finally finds out how much Finny has changedthat he isn't the same happy-go-lucky, in his own universe type of guyand that he has been through a great deal, and been touched by his experience. This is part of the theme of change under crisis, which also applies to Leper's caseFinny is faced with his closest friend's treachery, his physical limitations, and the reality of the war, and Leper is unable to deal with the stresses of military training.
Finally, the depths of winter have been shrugged off, as Gene is enthralled by the "vitality" that, to him, signals the coming of spring. But this feeling is just a short-lived reprieve; Gene's "peace" that he felt before was shattered by seeing Leper, and knowing from his experience that the war is definitely real. Gene himself acknowledges that they don't have much time left to feel so young and carefree; "I kept wondering about next spring, about [whether it] had this aura of promise in itI felt fairly sure it didn't" (146). The bigger wave that Gene had mentioned is about to hit, and the war is becoming something that the boys can no longer ignore.
When a set-off section appears discussing the state of Finny's leg, this is a rather plain instance of foreshadowing. Chances are, the author wouldn't draw such attention to this subject if it wasn't to become important later; and, by the end of the chapter, this issue becomes very important, as the boys' confidence about Finny's strength proves false. Finny's insistence that his leg is stronger, and Gene's agreement, is ironic taken with the events at the end of the chapter.
Leper's transformation has an effect on more people than just Gene; both Brinker and Finny are changed somehow by hearing about it, especially Finny, who finally acknowledges that the war is real because of Gene's account of events. Brinker is the most skeptical of Gene's story at first; "no one can change that much," he insists, an ironic statement since that is exactly what has happened (148). But, Brinker is also the one who is least surprised, in the end, by what happened; he guesses Leper's whole story, somehow, from Gene's brief statements that Leper has changed and panicked after he enlisted. Brinker seems genuinely saddened by what happened to Leper, yet he is able to turn around and try to destroy Gene and Finny's friendship directly afterward. Brinker doesn't seem to be emotionally affected by anything for long, nor does he seem to understand other people quite as well as he pretends to.
As soon as Gene tells them about Leper, Finny seems to have automatically changed. When Brinker makes a remark about Finny being crippled and sidelined, Finny just accepts the remark, rather than giving Brinker heck for saying such a thing. When Gene urges Finny to say that there isn't a war, Finny obliges him, but his completely ironic statement betrays that he no longer believes in his own fantasy-world constructions.
The struggle between war and peace on campus appears to be almost won by war; though Devon, as Gene insists, is "by tradition and choice the most civilian of schools," still the boys there can't go on acting like they won't be in the military in a matter of months (150). Gene notes the divide between the students at the school and the recruitment officers who pay them frequent visits; he uses a metaphor that relates the school to Athens and the military representatives to Sparta, emphasizing the "deep and sincere difference" between the two, which is very hard to bridge (151). Enlistment fever has died down, but still, something is lost on campus when the war is allowed to encroach; the boys are forced to think of their adult lives, and the possibilities that their lives might be lostheavy thoughts for young boys of 17.
Brinker's behavior turns vindictive and strange in this chapter; where his extended joke about Gene's guilt was a bit odd, his obsession with Finny's accident and condition is unexplainable. Brinker has absolutely no reason to suspect any foul play, since he wasn't at school when it happened, and none of the boys present said anything of the sort to anyone. It seems like a form of ESP for Brinker to just waltz in on he first day and automatically know what happened outside of his presence; and why he would be completely obsessed with events which had nothing to do with him, and for which he was not present, is even more mysterious. Brinker is obviously meant to be a kind of conscience figure, intended to dredge the ugly truth up in front of Gene and Finny; but isn't this purpose rather redundant, since both Gene and Finny know the truth without Brinker's unwanted interference?
To state it plainly, Brinker has no stake in the matter, and no motive in his actions that is discernible from the text. He has no way of knowing what went on, and no sources to draw on in order to create his "theories." The patchy motivations and the indistinct characterization of Brinker make him seem like another symbolic figure. It is as if he were a creation of both Gene and Finny's inner conscience, reluctantly spawned by both of them as a way of forcing themselves to confront the realities of the accident, and their state afterward. Brinker is another character who is anything but realistic, and operates on a more allegorical and less realistic plane than a character like Gene. The novel itself seems to be attempting some sort of realism, with its carefully drawn main characters, its painstakingly constructed settings, and its extensive treatment of themes relating to ordinary human nature. But, in places like this one, the story loses its realistic thread and tries to vault itself to the level of a parable. The novel is uneven because of this divide between two different genres and kinds of writing; it is an incomplete work of realism colored with self-examination, combined with an incomplete parable.
The inquiry itself is rather odd, since neither Gene nor Finny consent to it or want to take place in the proceedings. Brinker resides as the chief of the proceedings, hell-bent on getting the "facts" into the open for everyone's own good; how ironic, since it is the disclosure of the facts which causes Finny's second accident, and puts a great traumatic strain on him and Gene. As Gene says in his apt metaphor, Brinker is "imagining himself Justice incarnate"; but even Gene knows that Brinker is going at this from the wrong angle, since "Justice incarnate isalso blindfolded," while Brinker is trying to get his desired outcome out of the whole affair (161).
Just as Gene tries to deny responsibility for the accident, Finny tries his best to cover up his friend's guilt. They work together to try and thwart the charges that Brinker puts before them, and fully illustrate their very different natures. Gene is being more selfish in his attempts to cover things up, with his lies meant to hide his involvement; Finny is trying only to shield his friend from any implications, and tries to divert attention away from Gene's guilt. But this is one time that they cannot deny what has happened, and the truth comes out, despite their wishes that it be their secret. This is a unique occasion, because Finny cries, for the first time that Gene has been witness to, and for the first time in the book. He surrenders his will to fight, which may be partly to blame for his accident at the end of this chapter.