Gene presents his relationship with Finny as one of simple friendship, but subtle hints in the text signal the presence of darker currents below the surface. Indeed, the discrepancy between appearance and reality here does not arise only in Gene’s account of events but persists within the story itself. Thus, not only does the narrator Gene declare himself and Finny to be on heartily good terms, attempting to give the reader a happy impression, but also the character Gene works to keep up this appearance to the other boys at the school.
However, the dynamics between the roommates are far from simple. First, power in the relationship is clearly skewed toward Finny, who easily makes Gene do things that he doesn’t want to—like leaping from the tree branch and being involved in a wrestling match that makes them miss dinner. More important, it is evident that Gene resents Finny, although he doesn’t explicitly admit it. Instead, he portrays Finny’s perceived superiorities as mere annoyances: he says that he finds it “galling” that Finny weighs ten pounds more than he does. But the frequency of his allusions to Finny’s handsome physique and grace (his harmonious movement, ability to “flow” rather than walk, perfect coordination) indicate that Gene possesses a much deeper envy. Although he later denies that Finny “shamed” him into jumping, he thinks to himself at the time, “Why did I let Finny talk me into stupid things like this?”
However, the description of Gene and Finny’s high-school world suggests a much lighter mood than that of the scene that opens the novel. Gene’s subtle resentment of his friend does not yet take on sinister overtones; at this point, the reader can easily dismiss it as a typical expression of natural adolescent competitiveness. The description of the sunny and carefree atmosphere at Devon during the summer session creates the sense of an idyllic life among the fields and trees; only later in the novel does the text establish a contrast between the beauty of nature and the darkness of the human heart. The only pressing sign of trouble at this point is the presence of the war. The text does, however, make a significant connection between war and the leap from the tree: the leap is normally undertaken by older boys, specifically as practice for jumps that they might have to make from torpedoed boats or troop vessels. Nevertheless, war in this passage is associated with boyish conceptions of bravery and adventure, not with brutality and hate.