Brinker’s visit to Gene and Finny’s room occasions a physical description of the bedroom walls for the first time. We learn that Finny has hung a picture of Roosevelt and Churchill, representing, to him, the fat, old men who have created the war. More important, however, the description gives us new insight into Gene. Gene has hung a picture of a southern plantation, which, he notes, constitutes a “bald-faced lie,” part of a false identity that he assumed when he first came to Devon. Although he is from the upper South, Gene recounts that he had initially faked an accent from a state far south of his own and given the impression that the sentimental photograph showed his house. This insight into Gene’s prior deceit puts the reader on the alert; the picture of the plantation becomes a symbol of Gene’s unreliability as a source of information about his own life, a symbol of his inability to come to terms with his own identity. We wonder how accurately Gene has narrated the scene of Finny’s fall and the events surrounding it; like Brinker, we become increasingly suspicious.
The meaning of Finny’s remark to Gene, amid discussion of Leper, that he needs to trust Gene and believe him because he knows Gene better than he knows anyone else is ambiguous. One can argue that Knowles is suggesting ironically how little Finny really knows Gene, that he is completely oblivious to Gene’s earlier pettiness and Gene’s role in his accident. One can also argue that Knowles is implying that Finny knows everything—that he simply chooses to overlook the evidence against Gene because of his extreme dependence on him and need to love him.
The issues touched upon in these scenes now emerge in full force with Brinker’s makeshift trial. The trial scene constitutes the final victory of the winter session over the summer session, of Brinker’s desire for truth and justice over Finny and Gene’s desire to preserve innocence and keep reality at bay. Brinker clearly believes that he is doing the right thing; one can argue that he is serving the interests of an abstractly defined justice. But while justice is supposed to be blind, as Gene notes, the only thing to which Brinker seems blind is Finny’s lack of interest in having the truth extracted. This shying away from discovery is obvious in the way Finny describes the events: he deliberately recounts that Gene was at the bottom of the tree in order to deflect guilt away from his friend. It is left to the half-mad Leper to tell what really happened and finally break down Finny’s wall of denial. Again, we wonder about Leper’s inner psychology and motives: “I’m important too,” he tells the tribunal; in a sense, he seems to be exacting his revenge on Finny and Gene for the closeness of their friendship and for the fact that he was not part of it.
Just as in the initial portrayal of the scene of Finny’s fall, Gene’s narration breaks down at the crucial moments. In the scene of the fall, the reader is given an account of the external steps leading to the disaster but not of the inner processes unfolding in Gene’s mind. Similarly, when Brinker now interrogates the boys, Gene narrates the external facts of the scene but refuses to portray his reactions: we witness neither fear, nor anger, nor even resignation. Except for brief calculations about whether people will believe Leper, Gene treats the terribly important events going on around him with a bizarre lack of emotion. This quality compels us once again to ponder how reliable a narrator Gene is; we must continually question the accuracy of his portrayals and analyze the story for ourselves, reading between the lines.