Ch 1 As the novel opens, Gene Forrester returns to Devon, the New Hampshire boarding school he attended during World War II. Gene has not seen Devon for 15 years, and so he notices the ways in which the school has changed since he was a student there. Strangely, the school seems newer, but perhaps, he thinks, the buildings are just better taken care of now that the war is over. Gene walks through the campus on a bleak, rainy November afternoon, revisiting the buildings and fields he remembers-and especially two places he recalls as "fearful sites." At the First Academic Building, he enters the foyer to look closely at the white marble steps. Then he trudges across the playing fields to the river in search of a particular tree and finally recognizes it by its long limb over the water and the scars on its trunk. The tree, he thinks, is smaller than he remembers.
The chapter section ends with Gene heading back to shelter through the rain. The second section opens during the summer of 1942 when Gene is 16. He is attending a special Summer Session at Devon, designed to speed up education to prepare the boys for the military draft in their senior year. Gene stands at the same tree with his best friend and roommate, Phineas (nicknamed Finny), and three other boys, Edwin Lepellier (Leper), Chet Douglass, and Bobby Zane.
The tree seems enormous to Gene, but Finny suddenly decides to climb it and jump into the river, just like the Devon 17 year olds, who are training for military service. Finny jumps and dares Gene to follow. Against his better judgment, Gene climbs the tree and also jumps, but the three others refuse... The shared danger of jumping brings Finny and Gene closer. While the rest of the boys hurry ahead at the sound of the bell for dinner, the roommates playfully wrestle until they are late for the meal. They slip into the dormitory, where they read their English assignments and play their radio (against school rules), until it is time for bed.
Ch 2 The morning after the boys first jump from the tree, Mr. Prud " homme, a substitute Master for the summer, scolds Gene and Finny for missing dinner. Finny tells Mr. Prud " homme that they were late because they were jumping out of the tree to prepare for military service-a far-fetched excuse he weaves into a long, funny explanation.
Finny's friendly chatter charms Mr. Prud " homme, and the Master lets the boys off without punishment. That day Finny wears a very un-Devon bright pink shirt, and its unconventional color draws Gene's attention. The shirt, Finny insists, is an "emblem"-a celebration of the first Allied bombing of Central Europe. Later, at a formal tea, Finny wins over the strict Mr. Patch-Withers with his "emblem." Finny even gets an appreciative laugh from the faculty and their wives when they see that he has also used his Devon tie as a belt, a gesture of disrespect for which anyone else would have been punished.
After the tea, Gene and Finny walk across the playing fields talking. Finny declares that he does not believe the Allies bombed Central Europe, and Gene, surrounded by the peace and serenity of the elms, agrees. Bombs in Central Europe, Gene reflects, seem unreal to a boy at Devon. As they approach the river, Finny dares Gene to jump out of the tree again. When Gene accepts, Finny offers to jump at the same time, to "cement" their "partnership." They also decide to form the Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session, in which all members will have to jump from the tree. On the limb, Gene turns to talk to Finny and suddenly loses his balance.
Instantly, Finny grabs Gene's arm, steadying him, and then both jump successfully into the river. Only later, after dinner, does Gene realize that Finny's quick response may have saved his life. Ch 3 As this chapter opens, Finny is recruiting the other boys for the Suicide Society. Every night, Gene and Finny jump from the tree and then watch their friends jump in order to join the club. This nightly meeting is the only scheduled activity Finny never misses.
Gene goes along every time, but secretly he hates it. Early in the summer, Finny becomes dissatisfied with the school sports program-badminton, in particular-and decides the boys should make up their own game (blitz ball). He hurls a heavy medicine ball at Gene and challenges him to do something with it. Gene runs wildly with it, is tackled by the other boys, while Finny calls out plays, improvises rules on the run, and generally makes up the game as the boys play it. Chaotic blitz ball turns out to be the hit of the summer, and Finny, naturally, proves to be the best player. In the next section of the chapter, Gene remembers the time Finny broke the school swimming record.
The two boys are alone in the pool when Finny notices a record from 1940 and decides to try to break it. With Gene as his timekeeper, Finny beats the record by. 7 seconds, but there are no witnesses so the time will not count. When Gene encourages his friend to try again the next day to make it official, Finny refuses and asks Gene not to speak about it to anyone.
Finny then proposes a trip to the beach. Gene feels he should be studying for a trigonometry test, but agrees anyway. In violation of school rules, the boys ride their bicycles to the shore, where they swim in the ocean, eat hot dogs, drink beer, and sleep that night among the sand dunes. Just before falling asleep, Finny confides to Gene that he considers him his "best pal." Gene realizes that he should tell Finny he feels the same about him, but says nothing. Ch 4 The boys ride back from the beach to Devon, arriving just in time for Gene's trigonometry test-the first examination Gene fails.
Blitz ball and the Suicide Society occupy the rest of the day and evening, and Gene begins to suspect that Finny is deliberately keeping him from studying. Instead of a "best pal," Gene begins to see his roommate as a deadly rival. Finny already stands unchallenged as the best athlete at Devon, and Gene hopes to even up their status by becoming the best student. He sees Finny's games and rule-breaking-and even Finny's occasional studying-as a rival's sneaky attempts to make him fail. The night before an important French examination, Finny announces that Leper is finally going to jump from the tree and so become a member of the Suicide Society. Unconvinced that Leper will jump and suspicious that Finny is really using this as an excuse to keep him from studying, Gene bursts out angrily at his roommate.
Surprised and concerned, Finny tells Gene to stay and study, if that is what he wants to do. But Gene goes to the tree, confused by thoughts that perhaps Finny is not his jealous rival after all. When they arrive at the tree, Finny proposes a double jump. Both boys climb the tree and stand on the limb above the river. Close to the trunk, Gene jounces the limb and watches Finny lose his balance and fall heavily to the bank. Then Gene walks out onto the limb and jumps easily into the river.
Ch 5 As the chapter opens, Gene hears from the school doctor, Dr. Stanpole, that Finny's leg has been "shattered" in the fall. Numbed by the terrible accident and fearing that he will be accused of causing it, Gene stays in his room. There he dresses in his roommate's clothes (including the pink shirt) and feels, for a time, as if he has become Finny - sharp, optimistic, confident. But when the moment passes, Gene again feels dread and guilt about what he has done to his friend. After chapel one morning, Dr.
Stanpole tells Gene that he may visit Finny in the infirmary. Finny is recovering, Dr. Stanpole explains to Gene, but he will never play in any sport again. Gene bursts into tears at the news. Gently, Dr.
Stanpole encourages Gene to cheer up, for Finny's sake. Gene is the only person Finny has asked to see. Gene arrives at the infirmary, certain that Finny will accuse him of causing the accident. In their conversation, Gene probes to see whether Finny realizes what made him fall. Although he has a vague sense of Gene's involvement in the accident, Finny pushes these thoughts aside and apologizes to his friend for suspecting him. Gene suddenly feels he must tell Finny the truth, but he is prevented by the arrival of Dr.
Stanpole, who ends the visit. That fall, on his way to Devon, Gene visits Finny in his home outside Boston, where he is still recuperating. There Gene admits jouncing the limb deliberately in order to make Finny fall. Finny refuses to believe his friend, and when Gene insists he is telling the truth, Finny tells him to go away. Realizing that he is hurting Finny, Gene stops the talk, mumbling an excuse about being tired from the train ride. Finny tells Gene that he will return to Devon soon.
The roommates part as friends, with Gene promising, falsely, that he will not start "living by the rules." Ch 6 In this chapter, Gene returns to Devon for the Winter Session and notices immediately that the freedom of the summer days has come to an end. The ordinary business of the school term as well as changes due to the war now dictate life on campus, creating an atmosphere that is both serious and rigid. As Gene hurries to report as new assistant manager at the Crew House, he thinks of Phineas' trick of balancing on a canoe and then tumbling headlong into the water. The thought pleases Gene, because it brings back the carefree image of his friend before his accident. Gene meets Cliff Quackenbush, the crew manager, who treats him with contempt. Disgusted by Gene's inexperience and lack of motivation, Quackenbush calls him "maimed"-a remark that prompts Gene to hit Quackenbush in the face.
In the struggle that follows, both boys end up in the water, and a drenched Gene leaves for his dormitory. On the way to his room, Gene meets Mr. Ludsbury, a strict Devon master who warns him that the wild antics of the summer will not be tolerated any longer. Saddened by this stern lecture, Gene is only mildly curious when Mr. Ludsbury tells him he has a long-distance phone call.
It turns out to be Phineas on the phone, calling from home. In a friendly conversation, Finny again dismisses Gene's confession and expresses relief that they will still be roommates. The only conflict arises when Gene tells Finny about going out for assistant crew manager, a position usually taken by younger students with no athletic talents. Outraged that Gene would even consider such a position, Finny tells his friend that he must go out for sports. Since Finny can no longer compete, Gene must take his place. With this pronouncement, Gene feels as if he is becoming part of Finny.
Ch 7 This chapter opens when Brinker Hadley, a leader of the senior class, visits Gene in his room. Brinker teases Gene about having a room to himself, suggesting that Gene has "fixed it" that way on purpose. Gene laughs off the remark uneasily, feeling as if Brinker is hinting that he deliberately caused Finny's accident. Later in the basement Butt Room where students gather to smoke, Brinker pushes Gene into a crowd of boys and openly accuses him of "doing away with his roommate." In response, Gene makes up a long, silly list of crimes he committed against Finny, stopping short of actually admitting to his part in the fall. At this point, he dares a younger boy to guess what happened at the tree.
When the boy answers that Gene pushed Finny off the limb, Gene tells him he is wrong and brushes him aside, exposing the younger boy to the ridicule of the others. Making an excuse about having to study, Gene escapes the awkward situation. As the winter approaches, Devon students start to take on the work usually done by men now in the service. For a few days, the boys pick apples. Later, with the first heavy snow, they volunteer to dig out the railroad yards so that trains can pass. Only Leper stays behind, to ski through the countryside and take photographs.
The work on the railroad exhausts the boys, and the sight of the first train to pass-a troop train carrying young recruits-makes the students feel childish. Talk turns to training programs and recruitment-activities much more meaningful, they decide, than school. When Quackenbush insists that he will stay at Devon the whole year, the others sneer at him and question his patriotism. As the returning students reach the school grounds, Leper appears, delighted with his day's skiing and proud of the photographs he has shot of a beaver dam. Protective of his friend, Gene congratulates him, but Brinker barely contains his annoyance. When they are alone, Brinker declares impulsively to Gene that he is going to enlist immediately.
Excited by Brinker's sudden decision and determined to face the challenge of the war himself, Gene bounds up to his room. But when he opens the door, he finds that Finny is back, and the plans about enlisting suddenly fade away. Ch 8 As the chapter opens, Finny teases Gene and complains about the lack of maid service in the dormitories. When Gene says that the inconvenience is minor, considering the war, Finny murmurs his doubts about whether there really is a war at all. The next morning, as Finny bounds around the room on crutches, Brinker comes by to ask Gene if he is ready to go enlist.
When Finny is shocked by this, Gene suddenly changes his mind and jokingly refuses to sign up with Brinker. In the teasing that follows, Brinker receives his first nickname at Devon-"Yellow Peril." Gene worries that Finny will fall again, because the snow and ice outside and the marble floors inside make it difficult for him to get around campus on crutches. Finny decides to miss class and go to the gym instead, a long and exhausting walk for him. Gene realizes that Finny's natural athlete's way of walking will never return, and Finny in turn tells Gene that he must become an athlete in his place. Finny also tells Gene there is no war really-only fat old men pretending that it exists to punish young people who might have fun otherwise. These old men have faked the food shortage, too, Finny insists, so that all the best food can be shipped to the rich men's exclusive clubs.
When Gene asks how he knows about this deception, Finny blurts out bitterly that he knows because he has suffered. He confides to Gene that he once hoped to compete in the Olympics, but now Gene will have to take his place in the 1944 Games. When Gene brings up the war, Finny reminds him that there is no war. The boys begin a strict routine, with Gene helping Finny in his studies and Finny training Gene for the Olympics. One day, as he runs a challenging course laid out by Finny, Gene finds, to his surprise, that he can push himself beyond exhaustion to a second wind.
When Mr. Ludsbury comes out to ask Gene if he is training to become a commando, Finny proudly declares that they are aiming for the 1944 Olympics. Mr. Ludsbury laughs briefly, but sternly remind them that the war is more important than any games. Finny responds flatly, "no"-an answer that catches Mr. Ludsbury by surprise and sends him on his way.
Finny wonders why the master believes the lie about the war, and then it comes to him-Mr. Ludsbury is thin, and only the fat old men know the secret about the war. Ch 9 The chapter opens with the enlistment of Leper Lepellier, who decides to join the ski troops. The first recruit from the class, Leper simply makes up his mind and goes quietly, without any fanfare. Brinker begins to connect any triumphal news of the war with Leper, and the Devon students imagine their former classmate-at least in their jokes-as a war hero.
Only Finny refuses to imagine Leper as a legend. When he sees that talk in the Butt Room always revolves around Leper's imaginary heroism, Finny forbids Gene to go there, on the grounds that smoking is bad for athletes. Gene finds himself isolated from the rest of school life, alone with Finny in a world where the 1944 Olympic Games seem more real that World War II. To liven up a dull winter, Finny invents the Devon Winter Carnival, an event that takes place on the banks of the Naguamsett River and includes sports, snow statues, food, and music. Finny presides over the action, which includes a ski jump, a prize table, and jugs of hard cider, guarded by Brinker. At the signal, Chet Douglass blows his trumpet, and the boys attack Brinker to raid the hard cider.
In the midst of the riot, Gene pours cider down Brinker's throat, and Brinker declares the Games open. Finny, however, objects. He officially opens the Games with "the sacred fire from Olympus"-a copy of the Iliad doused with cider and set ablaze. The boys, excited by the cider, throw themselves into the games, while Finny, atop the prize table, dances on one leg. Gene surpasses himself athletically, freed by the Carnival's imaginative escape from the realities of war. When a telegram arrives for Gene, Finny grabs it, announcing it must be from the Olympic Committee.
But, instead, the telegram is from Leper, who explains that he has escaped and needs Gene to come to him immediately-"at Christmas location." Ch 10 In this chapter, Gene travels by train to Leper's house. As he stops for coffee, he concludes that Leper's "escape" must have been from spies. The legend of Leper, created in fun at Devon, seems to have come true. As Gene approaches the house, he notices Leper watching him from a window, not moving even as Gene stands at the front door. When Gene opens the door himself, Leper appears and ushers him into the dining room-the only place, he tells Gene, where "you never wonder what's going to happen." When Gene jokes and lightly teases him, Leper's response is angry, then despairing. Leper has changed, Gene sees, and he begins to understand that his friend has become mentally unbalanced.
The "escape," Leper explains, was from the Army and a section-eight discharge that would have labeled him a "psycho." Laughing hysterically and shouting angrily, Leper tells Gene that his experience has revealed a lot to him about himself and others- especially the "savage underneath" that lurks in Gene. Suddenly, he accuses Gene of deliberately causing Finny's fall. In response, Gene rises angrily and kicks over Leper's chair. The noise brings Leper's mother, and Gene apologizes, saying he will leave, but Leper, still laughing, invites him to stay for lunch. After the meal, they walk through the snow together, and Gene tries to talk to Leper calmly. The conversation breaks down when Leper begins sobbing uncontrollably, confessing that he is haunted by disturbing images, such as a man's face on a woman's body, or the arm of a chair coming to life as a human arm.
When Leper tells these frightening details from his psychotic episode in the Army, Gene shouts at his friend to shut up and runs away. Ch 11 Shaken by what he has learned about Leper, Gene returns to Devon, wanting to see Finny again. He finds him in the middle of a chaotic snowball fight, in which all the boys end up playfully attacking Finny. Gene worries that Finny may injure his leg again with such rough play, but Finny insists that he is careful and adds-to Gene's relief-that he can feel the bone growing stronger. When Brinker visits the boys' room to ask about Leper, Gene answers that Leper is "Absent Without Leave." Finny assumes that Leper has grown tired of the army, but Brinker sees the truth at once, declaring that now two students from the class are out of the war, the second being the injured Finny. Gene resists this idea, resorting to Finny's notion that there is no war, but when Finny agrees with only a fading grin, Gene knows that he is being ironic.
One morning after chapel, Brinker tells Gene that his failure to enlist comes from pity for Finny. He also says that Gene should put the accident in the past by seeing all the details come to light. Brinker hints darkly that Gene knows what he means. Working on a translation of Caesar's Gallic Wars, Gene and Finny discuss the current war. Finny admits that Leper's mental breakdown has convinced him of the reality of the war, and he tells Gene that he has even seen Leper at Devon. The boys decide not to tell anyone about Leper's presence.
Later, Brinker and other boys come to take Gene and Finny by force to the Assembly Room in the First Building. There Brinker formally opens an inquiry into the circumstances of Finny's accident to end any "stray rumors and suspicions." When Brinker questions him, Finny first recalls Gene at the bottom of the tree but then remembers that they climbed the tree together. This contradicts Gene's own false statement, and only Leper, who also witnessed the accident, can resolve the difference. Leper appears and makes it clear in his own strange and mystical version of the event that Gene jounced the limb just before Finny fell. When Brinker insists they must investigate further, Finny shouts him down and rushes out of the room in tears. The boys hear Finny's cane tapping and then the sound of him falling down the marble stairs.
Ch 12 After Finny's second fall, Dr. Stanpole arrives to take charge. He tells Gene that Finny has broken his leg again, but that it appears to be a simpler fracture - "much cleaner" than the original injury. Against orders, Gene follows the doctor's car taking Finny to the infirmary. There Gene spies through a window, calling to Finny. In fury, Finny struggles to rise from his bed but falls out of it instead.
Apologizing, Gene leaves quickly, and spends the night wandering through the campus. Next morning he awakens in a corner of the ramp beneath the stadium. Returning to his room, Gene finds a note from the doctor, asking him to bring clothes to Finny in the infirmary. He packs a suitcase and takes it to Finny, who speaks calmly but unpacks the clothes with trembling hands. Suddenly Finny slams his fist on the suitcase and tells Gene that he has been trying desperately to enlist in the military, but no one-not even the Canadians and Chinese-will take him because of his injury.
Gene tells Finny he would never have been any good in the war anyway, because he would have wanted to play baseball with the enemy instead of fighting. Brought to tears by this, Finny asks if Gene's part in the fall was just "blind impulse," and not a deliberate expression of hate. Gene assures him, and Finny gratefully accepts the explanation. Gene spends the rest of the day in school activities, but returns to the infirmary at five o'clock to check on Finny after the surgery to set his leg. There he learns from Dr.
Stanpole that marrow from the broken bone had leaked into the bloodstream during the operation and traveled to Finny's heart, killing him. Although he is overwhelmed by the news of Finny's death, Gene does not cry, not even at the funeral, because he feels as if it is actually his own funeral. Ch 13 As the last chapter opens, the war has come to Devon in the form of the Parachute Riggers's chool. The School occupies the Far Common, with jeeps, trucks, and sewing machines. Gene goes with Brinker to the Butt Room, where they have a talk about military service with Mr. Hadley, Brinker's father.
Mr. Hadley sneers at the soldiers learning to sew and cheerily asks Gene which branch of service he prefers. Gene explains that he is planning to join the Navy in order to avoid being drafted into the infantry, while Brinker, too, has made a careful choice, deciding on the relative safety of the Coast Guard. This disgusts Mr. Hadley, who urges them to think about how their military service will sound when they talk about it in the future. The safest choice may not be the wisest choice in the long run, he explains.
Afterward, Brinker complains of his father's hearty enthusiasm for war service, especially since the older generation will not face any risk in the war that Brinker insists they caused. Brinker's thinking reminds Gene of Finny's theory about the fake-war conspiracy of "fat old men." But for himself, Gene decides that the war arose from something "ignorant" within humanity itself. As Gene empties his locker to leave Devon for military service, he thinks of Finny and their friendship, which still remains a vital part of his life. Later, from his adult perspective, Gene believes that his war actually ended before he ever entered military service.
He sees now that he killed his "enemy" at Devon, while Finny, always unique, never saw anyone or anything as his enemy.