Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Leper and Gene part. One shoves off on ski poles in search of a beaver dam, the other trudges away "to help shovel out New England for the war." How do you think Gene really feels about his lot in life at this moment? Do you suppose there's a part of him that would rather take Leper's path, to seek and find and do what he really wants, instead of following the herd? How important to Leper are the opinions of others? And how important are they to Gene?
At last the boys of Devon free a group of passenger cars that turn out to be troop trains filled with young men of about their age, who cheer as they roll past. The boys have made it possible for one more group of soldiers to continue on their way to war. No one knows what to say about this dubious achievement except that it points up the contrast between being part of the war and not being part of it.
The day's work brings the war home to the boys in a new way. Returning to the school, they talk among themselves about the war and its growing distraction for them. Their studying for exams and going out for sports seems suddenly absurd, useless, and downright wrong. For the first time, they begin to talk seriously about enlisting in the armed forces. The option of not waiting out the senior year has presented itself through the sight of those young, enthusiastic troops and through thoughts of older brothers already in service. There is also the thought that the boys of Devon might not have any legacy for following generations if they do not seize the time and become fighters for freedom. Each boy, aware that these are perilous times, must confront the prospect of having to make a great decision.
Percolating within Gene is the half-concealed desire to make a sharp break with childhood and the troublesome events of the past few months. To enlist in the army would accomplish that in one stroke.
As they approach the dormitory the boys run into Leper. Gene feels responsible for defending Leper's independent actions that day. He understands the worth of Leper's choice, and most likely he envies it; he envies anyone who has the courage of his convictions. Gene believes he does not possess any deeply felt convictions. Can we agree with this harsh self-evaluation?
Leper passes on into the night. Brinker is sharply critical of Leper and, by extension, of the school as a whole. He is impatient to make a move. "I'm giving it up," Brinker blurts out to Gene, no doubt inspired by what he has seen that day, "I'm going to enlist. Tomorrow."
Brinker's announcement is the spark that sets Gene's resolution on fire, liberating all his half-formed fantasies of escape as a way out of the mess. "Not that it would be a good life," Gene concedes. "The war would be deadly all right. But I was used to finding something deadly in things that attracted me."
NOTE: Do you wonder if Gene's immediate realization that this is the destiny he's hungered for all his life is in fact a veiled desire for death, the ultimate punishment for what he's done to Finny?
He bears down on the decision under the cold light of a starry winter night sky. It still seems right to him. Gene can think of no earthly reason to persevere on his current path. Life at Devon has been meaningless since the destruction of the summer. Maybe he has nothing to live for: "I... knew that I owed no one anything. I owed it to myself to meet this crisis in my life when I chose, and I chose now."
Gene is resolved and at peace in his decision. He has finally taken a step on his own, a step as momentous as a baby's first step, a step toward learning to walk without holding on to anything, independent of aid, single and forthright.
Gene returns to his room, filled with a self-confidence and buoyancy he's never had before-and finds that Finny is there, awaiting him with the old, familiar grin.