By John Knowles
The novel is set at Devon, a private boarding school in New Hampshire, during World War II.
The novel begins with the main characters, Gene and Finny, at Devon for a summer session. The school hopes that this session will allow students to receive a diploma before they are drafted on their 18th birthday. Gene and Finny are roommates and friends at the school. Finny is a natural athlete who also acts as a leader for the other boys. Gene, however, is more academically oriented and is jealous of Finny’s natural ability in sports, a quality he lacks in academics.
Tone: nostalgia; the narrator’s feelings about his past.
The details of this recollection are dependent upon memory.
Theme of reflection; relation of a man to his much younger self.
Setting creates images: conservatism and traditionalism.
Devon has changed; contrast between reality and what exists in the memory.
Theme of memory vs. reality; note description of the tree.
Devon – symbol of innocence and lost youth; symbol of fear he felt.
Foreshadowing: hardness of the marble stairs.
June/November weather symbolism:
Gene as a youth and Gene as a man.
Gene & Finny as foils; Gene is ruleabiding & conservative; Finny is a daredevil with rule breaking attitude.
Finny: charming; persuasive. He escapes punishment by inventing ridiculous excuses; succeeds in “winning over” the masters. Rebellion vs. conformity: Finny mixes both – he does well in school and sports – he fits in; however, he is a rebel.
Innocence vs. age: they are children of a
“careless peace” set apart from the adults by their lack of knowledge of the war.
Finny – pink shirt – he says it’s a symbol of patriotism. It is really a symbol of
Finny’s willingness to be different; he cared little about what people thought about this (one of his little acts of rebellion). Chapter 3
Tone changes from end of Chapter 2. Ch.
2 – Gene grateful to Finny for saving him;
Ch. 3 – Gene accuses Finny of being responsible for the whole thing; we see jealousy and negative feelings Gene has for Finny.
Gene – feels obligation to Finny; feels like he is in a “strait jacket”.
The jealousy in Gene’s nature causes him to think badly of Finny and cast himself as Finny’s opponent.
Innocence vs. experience – seniors: completing obstacle courses and exercises; juniors: playing fields at their disposal. Blitzball – Finny’s inventive spirit; athletic ability; “sheer acts of mass hypnotism”.
Gene – in his description of Finny, makes him seem larger than life.
Time switch – present – Gene reflects on
World War II influence.
Metaphor – Finny as a bullet – swimming incident; rebellion.
Ocean visit – Gene’s refusal to answer
Finny – foreshadows conflict (something wrong beneath the surface of their friendship). Chapter 4
Sunrise – usually symbolic of rebirth or enlightenment. In this chapter, in symbolizes a more negative change that comes suddenly to Gene.
Description of the beach – “totally white and stainless” – just as Finny’s character turns out to be; Gene, however, expects that there is a grey nature in Finny’s character. Irony – Gene thinks Finny is trying to keep him from excelling and is engaged in some sort of
competition with him (as far from the truth as it can possibly be).
Gene’s jealousy of Finny helps to create an utterly unflattering portrait of Finny.
Gene – perhaps melodramatic – “deadly rivalry”. Vengeful
Truth vs. dangerous falsehood; Gene misinterprets his destructive anger as genuine despair.
We see the dark side to Gene’s character whereas Finny seems more pure and good-hearted than before.
Good vs. evil – Gene harms his friend.
Gene is actually projecting his own feelings into Finny (self-ambition).
By the end, Gene is more bitter and sarcastic towards Finny; Finny is more honest and sincere.
Irony – Gene