by Emma Honkola
When writing this post I was deciding between two topics from the section that greatly interested me: the way that Gene seems to want to be Finny, and why that Gene told Finny that he shook the tree on purpose so that Finny would fall. But then I realized that these two things have more in common than I had first observed.
Throughout the book so far it is apparent that Gene has some strong feelings about his friend Finny. Among these are feelings of envy, inferiority and competitiveness, as described in earlier posts. Coming into this new reading section, especially chapter five, these emotions seem to morph into a desire in Gene to be more like Finny, or even to be Finny. Gene is even shone to be trying on Finny’s clothing: “I decided to put on his clothes….I never forgot, and that evening I put on his cordovan shoes, his pants, and I looked for and finally found his pink shirt, neatly laundered in a drawer.” (pg. 54). Especially the fact that he looked for that special pink shirt, the one he had mocked in earlier chapters, yet also admired Finny’s confidence in wearing it, stood out to me. It seemed to me that he wasn’t just trying to be like Finny, but he was trying to also copy his characteristics- his confidence, in this case. To further cement this idea, when he looks at himself wearing Finny’s clothing in the mirror, he sees Finny instead of himself: “I was Phineas; Phineas to the life. I even had his humorous expression in my face, his sharp, optimistic awareness. I had no idea why this gave me such intense relief, but it seemed, standing there in Finny’s triumphant shirt, that I would never stumble through the confusions of my own character again.” (pg. 54). I believe that he was doing this not only because he is envious of Finny, but also because by creating the illusion that he is Finny, he is alleviating himself of the guilt that he feels from accidentally causing Finny to fall from the tree. He is seeking to find refuge in someone else’s identity. I am not sure if this is just a way of writing in the time, but when Gene says “I even had his humorous expression in my face…” in the quote above, instead of “on my face” like most people say it, it is less like he is just putting on the clothes and putting on a figurative mask, and more like he is actively trying to blur the line between his and Finny’s identities. Overall, Gene is trying to be Finny, not just be like him.
Connecting this to my second point of interest, Gene told Finny that he shook the tree on purpose so that Finny would fall because of his need to be like Finny. Because of his guilt in causing the accident, Gene became almost convinced that He had purposely caused Finny to fall because of his strong envy of him and his need to sabotage him in this ‘competition’ that he had created in his head. Key word: almost. Gene wasn’t completely convinced of this, because it had been an accident, even if his memory was starting to warp it. So why did he choose that version to go along with? Why did he choose to tell Finny that version of the story? All of these feelings that Gene was feeling towards Finny contributed to this- his envy, his guilt, his inferiority and lastly, his need to be Finny. As I said before, Gene already suspected himself to have caused the accident because of his envy and guilt, but his sense of inferiority to Finny throughout the book so far also contributed to it. His inferiority complex is made obvious by now he believed that he was in competition with Finny, that by winning a scholarship they will “both have come out on top, we would be even that was all. We would be even….”(pg.43). The fact that he feels that he needs to win the scholarship to be equal to Finny, shows that he does not already feel equal to him. By this logic, one can assume that his self esteem is not particularly high. It would be quite easy to convince himself that he did something horrible, especially because his opinion of himself is not too hot at the moment. The last factor that contributed, not to him believing he did it, but to him telling Finny, is his need to be Finny (I said the points would connect). When talking to Finny about the accident, Gene debates if he should tell Finny or not. The last thing to finally push him to say it is the question ‘What would Finny do?”. He asks himself “If Phineas had been sitting here in this pool of quilt, how would he have felt, what would he have done?” (pg. 58). Then he decides that “He would have told the truth.” (pg. 58). The reason he admits to what (he thinks) he did was because he was trying to do as Finny would have done.
I am not really sure where this development in Gene’s character will lead, but I hope that in the future, Gene will be able to disconnect his identity with Finny’s and will be able to be content with who he his, as himself. When you try to be someone else, you tend to forget who you really are, and I hope that Gene doesn’t fall in the same trap as many others.