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In Chapter VII, Gene learns that Brinker intends to enlist in the military the next day, leaving Devon for World War II. Gene's immediate reaction is to feel "a thrill":
To enlist. To slam the door impulsively on the past, to shed everything down to my last bit of clothing, to break the pattern of my life--that complex design I had been weaving since birth with all its dark threads . . . .
While walking across the campus, Gene considers the possibility; by the time he reaches his dorm, he has made up his mind. He will enlist. With this decision, a weight seems lifted from him as he "bounced zestfully up the dormitory stairs."
The irony in this situation is inescapable. Gene's personal misery is so great that the idea of fighting in World War II gives him a sense of relief. To escape one war, he gladly would join another. It is also ironic that Gene thinks he can escape himself and his past by distancing himself from Devon. He comes to understand the futility of this belief when he returns to school fifteen years after leaving it behind, still struggling to make peace with his actions all those years before. While at Devon, Gene thinks he can escape his past by running away from it. In fact, he frees himself from the past only by returning to Devon and standing still in the rain to revisit the tree.
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