The novel begins with Gene's return to Devon after fifteen years. Knowles' description of the weather that day creates a somber tone and emphasizes Gene's emotional state. The day is cold and wet with gusty winds coming off the river. Gene walks through muddy ground. A fog hangs over the river, enveloping Gene and isolating him from everything except the river and the trees beside it.
In Chapter 4, Gene wakes up at the beach while Finny still sleeps. The dawn is not beautiful; it is strange and gray, "like sunshine through burlap." The ocean looks dead, the gray waves look dead and the beach looks gray and dead--a tone of foreboding. In sleep, Finny also looks dead, an example of foreshadowing.
In Chapter 6, fall comes to Devon. "Fall had barely touched the full splendor of the trees, and during the height of the day the sun briefly regained its summertime power." Yet there is an "edge of coolness to imply the coming winter." The atmosphere is one of quiet transition; summer still echoes, but the coming winter (literally and figuratively) cannot be avoided.
In Chapter 7, winter settles in as Devon is buried under several snows: "[T]he ground had been clamped under snow for the winter." The arrival of real winter parallels the arrival of the "real" war" at school: "In the same way [that winter arrived] the war . . . commenced its invasion of the school. The early snow was commandeered as its advance guard."
Finally, with the conclusion of the novel, summer returns to Devon with "a beautiful New England day." Knowles writes that "Peace lay on Devon like a blessing, the summer's peace, the reprieve . . . ." The novel begins in cold rain and fog (Gene's emotional quest), but it ends in the warmth of another summer; Gene had survived the terrible year.