“Listen, pal, if I can’t play sports, you’re going to play them for me,” and I lost part of myself to him then, and a soaring sense of freedom revealed that this must have been my purpose from the first: to become a part of Phineas.
At the end of Chapter 6, Gene records this telephone conversation with Finny, in which the recuperating Finny expresses horror at the thought of Gene fulfilling his athletic requirement by managing the crew team. Their conversation establishes a pattern for their post-accident relationship, in which Gene, purged of his animosity and resentment, increasingly begins to blur the line between himself and his friend. He allows Finny to live through him, becoming “a part of Phineas” by letting Finny train him to be the athlete that Finny can no longer be. But even as Finny lives through Gene, Gene is clearly living through Finny; for, as his words here suggest, to experience life through Finny is to accrue a sense of “purpose” and a sense of self, both of which Gene had previously lacked. The friends’ codependency, which develops as Finny trains Gene for his fantasy “1944 Olympics,” fulfills deep needs on both sides: Finny’s need to live out his dreams of athletic glory and Gene’s desire to escape his identity. Thus, each boy, by becoming “part” of the other, protects himself from reality—Finny from his sudden but permanent physical shortcomings and Gene from his moral shortcomings.