The Characters (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Gene Forrester is a character whose worst enemy is himself. Although he is a capable athlete and an excellent student, Forrester is unable to prevent the dark side of his inner self from perverting and distorting his enjoyment of the world and the people around him. As Forrester admits to himself in chapter 7, he always finds something bad in the things around him; or, if he does not find it, he invents it. This proclivity, clearly the product of a subconscious force, results in paranoia. At one point in the novel, Forrester entertains the absurd idea that Finny is deliberately trying to destroy his scholastic success (even though Finny is obviously unconcerned). Forrester’s personal insecurity is such that it drives him toward somehow getting even with Finny, which he eventually does by causing Finny’s fall from the tree. Even though Finny’s accident and subsequent death liberate Forrester from his dark interior impulses, something vital inside him also dies.
Finny may symbolize the kind of person Forrester wishes he could be; Finny is an almost complete opposite of Forrester, a natural athlete and a complete individualist, interested in immediate and innocuous personal pleasures. Against the confining background of the Devon School strictures, Finny constructs his own world out of his imagination: It is Finny who invents new games to play; it is Finny’s idea to jump from the tree into the river. Whereas Forrester is all calculation, Finny is all spontaneity. Like Forrester, Finny...
(The entire section is 615 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Gene Forrester, a Southern teenager attending Devon, a preparatory school in New Hampshire. A highly sensitive, studious, and intellectual sixteen-year-old, he experiences maturation, goes through a dark night of the soul, and conquers adolescent angst during this short novel. Primarily, he is a keenly perceptive youth struggling to establish his identity at a time when World War II interferes with any peaceful and meaningful attempt to do so. He is capable, popular, boyish, and somewhat daring. The main action of the novel centers on his relationship with Finny, who is in most ways his physical, emotional, and intellectual opposite. At first, the two boys have a rather carefree existence as complementary halves of a friendship. This ends when Gene intentionally jolts the limb of a tree on which Finny is standing. His friend falls, crippling himself for life and ending his athletic endeavors. After this event, Gene spends his life accepting this fact of his guilt and trying to reconcile it to human nature and activity. The opening and ending chapters of the novel are narrated by Gene when he is thirty-one years old, now mature, yet still groping with the implications of what he had done years earlier as a teenager.
Phineas, called Finny, Gene’s friend, roommate, rival, and intimate companion at Devon School. Rambunctious, daring, winsome, popular, and athletic, he takes Gene as his best friend...
(The entire section is 586 words.)