Brinker Hadley is, in many ways, a foil (a character whose actions or emotions contrast with, and thereby highlight, those of another character) to Finny. Also charismatic and a leader of the Devon boys, Brinker wields a power comparable but opposite to Finny’s. Whereas Finny is spontaneous, mischievous, and vibrant, Brinker is stolid and conservative, a guardian of law and order. Finny, with his anarchic spirit and innocence, comes to be associated symbolically with the summer session at Devon, with its permissive atmosphere and warm, Edenic weather. Brinker, on the other hand, with his devotion to rules and his suspicious mind, is conceptually connected to the winter session, when the usual headmaster returns to restore discipline, the severe weather puts a damper on the boys’ play, and the distant war intensifies, looming ever blacker on the students’ horizons.
In many ways, Brinker represents the positive sense of responsibility that comes with adulthood. When he convinces Gene to enlist in the army, Gene moves toward accepting obligations and leaving the carefree realm of childhood behind. Yet Brinker also embodies the cynicism and jadedness of adolescence. He suspects the worst of Gene in contemplating his involvement in Finny’s fall. Only at the end of the novel does Brinker fully come into maturity: his earlier support of the war is, in many ways, as naïve as Finny’s insistence that the war is a big conspiracy; now however, he begins to resent the war for its injustice and madness.