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Before Phineas breaks his leg at the end of chapter 4, he is gung-ho about signing up for the war. Phineas can outrun, outplay, and outmaneuver anyone athletically; therefore, his dreams of proving his abilities in the war seem natural. Once he breaks his leg, though, Finny pretends that there is no war in an effort to cope with the loss of his dream to fight in it. This behavior confuses Gene, but there's no telling Finny there is a war if he won't accept it. Ironically, Leper, the unathletic loner, signs up for the military before any of his classmates. Unfortunately, he suffers a mental breakdown in a violent, foreign environment. After Leper returns from boot camp, Finny sees him hiding in the bushes next to the chapel. Finny tells Gene the following:
"There's nothing for us to do, maybe Carhart or Dr. Stanpole can do something. We won't tell anybody about it because . . . because they would just scare Leper, and he would scare them . . . Anyway, then I knew there was a real war on" (164).
Gene responds by saying he liked how Finny created a different reality for them by denying there was a war on.
It is important to know that Finny accepts the fact that the war exists because it shows that he's not unstable (like Leper). Finny proves that he has been pretending not to believe the war is real all along. This hint of sanity from Finny also foreshadows his bigger announcement in chapter 12 that he has been writing to different military departments to be accepted for service. The true denial that Finny must face isn't the fact that there is a war on--it's the fact that his broken leg has limited his athletic abilities and dreams for becoming a war hero for life.
In Chapter 11, Finny acknowledges that there is a "real war" going on after he sees Leper at Devon. However, it is in chapter 12 that the reader learns that Finny has been writing to the different military branches (i.e. Army, Navy, Marines) and they have all rejected him based upon his medical condition.
Once he accepts that there is a war, he also needs to face the reality of being rejected - something he is not accustomed to. Furthermore, he can no longer deny the fact that he will not be part of the war effort as he would like. Finny states, "I'll hate it everywhere if I'm not in this war!" Finny's life is forever changed by the fall from the tree and the rejection by the armed forces makes this clear.
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