Summary: Chapter 2
Mr. Prud’homme, a substitute teacher for the summer session, comes by the next morning to discipline Gene and Finny for missing dinner, but he is soon won over by Finny’s ebullient talkativeness and leaves without assigning a punishment. Finny decides to wear a bright pink shirt as an emblem of celebration of the first allied bombing of central Europe. Gene envies him slightly for being able to get away with wearing this color (which he says makes Finny look like a “fairy,” or homosexual); indeed, Finny seems capable of getting away with virtually anything he wants to do.
Mr. Patch-Withers, the substitute headmaster, holds tea that afternoon. Most of the students and faculty converse awkwardly; Finny, on the other hand, proves a great conversationalist. As Mr. Patch-Withers enters into a discussion with Finny about the bombings in Europe, his wife notices that Finny is wearing the school tie as a belt. Gene waits tensely in expectation of Finny’s reprobation, but Finny manages to talk his way out of the display of disrespect, accomplishing the impossible feat of making the stern Mr. Patch-Withers laugh. For a moment, Finny’s escape from trouble disappoints Gene, but he pushes the emotion aside, and the two boys leave the party together laughing. Finny suggests a jump from the tree and pushes Gene along toward the river. Finny declares that he refuses to believe that the Allies really bombed central Europe, and Gene concurs. They swim for a while in the river, and Finny asks if Gene is still afraid of the tree. Gene says that he is not, and they agree to form a new secret society—the “Super Suicide Society of the Summer Session.” When they get out on the limb, Gene turns back to Finny to make a delaying remark and loses his balance. Finny catches him, and then they both jump. It occurs to Gene that Finny may have saved his life.
Summary: Chapter 3
Thinking back on the near-disaster, Gene decides that while Finny may have saved his life, he wouldn’t have been up in the tree in the first place if it weren’t for Finny. He feels, therefore, that he owes Finny no real gratitude. That night, the Super Suicide Society gets off to a successful start as Finny convinces six other boys to sign on as inductees. Finny invents a list of rather arbitrary rules, including one that requires him and Gene to start each meeting by jumping out of the tree. Gene hates this rule and never loses his fear of the jump. Nonetheless, Gene attends every one of the nightly meetings and never contests the rule. Finny, who loves sports above all else, is disgusted with the summer session’s athletic program, especially the inclusion of badminton, and spontaneously invents a new sport called “blitzball” one afternoon. The game utilizes a medicine ball that Finny has found lying around; competition in the game is not between two perpetually divided teams but rather shifts as the ball is passed from player to player. Whichever boy possesses the ball at a given moment becomes the target for the other players, who try to tackle him; the boy may try either to outrun the others or pass the ball off to another boy. The game produces no real “winner.”
“Blitzball” gains immediate popularity, and Finny himself shows the most skill in it. One day, Finny and Gene are at the swimming pool alone, and Finny decides to challenge one of the school’s swimming records. He breaks it on his first attempt, but only Gene witnesses it. Finny refuses to try again in public and forbids Gene to tell anyone about it. Finny remains uncharacteristically silent for a while before proposing that they go to the beach; the trip, which school rules strictly forbid, takes hours by bicycle. Gene agrees despite himself, and they slip away down a back road. The ocean is cold, the surf heavy, and the sand scorching hot. Finny enjoys himself immensely and tries to keep Gene entertained. They eat dinner at a hot dog stand, and each obtains a glass of beer by displaying forged draft cards. They then settle down to sleep among the dunes. Finny says he is glad that Gene came along and that they are best friends. Gene starts to say the same but holds back at the last moment.
Analysis: Chapters 2–3
Chapter 2 develops Gene’s envy for Finny more fully. Watching Finny talk his way out of trouble, first with Mr. Prud’homme and then with Mr. Patch-Withers, Gene feels “unexpectedly excited” at the idea of his friend getting in trouble and then feels “a stab of disappointment” when Finny wriggles out. Gene tries to justify these emotions, reasoning that he did not want to see Finny punished for the sake of seeing him suffer but simply longed for the spectacle or excitement that the punishment would have brought. But this explanation seems false: when he says, “I just wanted to see some more excitement,” Gene seems to struggle to convince even himself, adding, “that must have been it.”
Moreover, Gene’s excessive insistence that Finny is his best friend and that just being friends with someone like Finny is an honor seems forced. Although Finny clearly is a special person, what Gene doesn’t say speaks as loudly as what he does: his last-second decision not to return Finny’s profession of friendship on the beach betrays his envy. Thus, Gene is divided between admiration and resentment, love and hate—an inner conflict that, like the external conflict in Europe, grows more severe as the story progresses.