To be redeemed means to atone for a sin or pay a debt: to make a wrong right and be in the clear. Fifteen years after have deliberately wobbled a branch, causing Finny a fall that ultimately killed him, Gene wants to believe he is redeemed and that all is...
To be redeemed means to atone for a sin or pay a debt: to make a wrong right and be in the clear. Fifteen years after have deliberately wobbled a branch, causing Finny a fall that ultimately killed him, Gene wants to believe he is redeemed and that all is OK. He recounts that Finny, in his hospital bed, goes to lengths to excuse Gene. Gene accepts Finny's story:
“It was just some kind of blind impulse you had in the tree there, you didn’t know what you were doing. Was that it?”
“Yes, yes, that was it. Oh that was it, but how can you believe that? How can you believe that? I can’t even make myself pretend that you could believe that.”
“I do, I think I can believe that. I’ve gotten awfully mad sometimes and almost forgotten what I was doing. I think I believe you, I think I can believe that. Then that was it. Something just seized you. It wasn’t anything you really felt against me, it wasn’t some kind of hate you’ve felt all along. It wasn’t anything personal.”
We know that Gene has a way of projecting his darkness onto Finny, which is what causes him to shake the tree to begin with, so when Gene says "How can you believe that?" it sounds more as if he is saying "how can I believe that ... I can't even make myself pretend that I could believe that." But he lets the lame story stand.
Finny lets Gene off the hook, but we know from Gene's version of the story that causing the fall was personal: Gene was plagued with the fear—a projection of his own dark, competitive nature—that Finny was trying to sabotage his academic excellence so that Finny could "win" against him.
Gene accepts the forgiveness Finny offers, but this doesn't mean he has redeemed himself or atoned for what he did.
He does say that in World War II:
I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there.
This is a cryptic statement: what enemy did Gene kill? His inner hatred—or Phineas? Is he at peace because he killed someone who was in his way? That sounds dangerously close to a borderline personality, perhaps a narcissistic disorder.
He did take from Phineas the lesson that:
letting its rocklike facts sift through and be accepted only a little at a time, only as much as he could assimilate without a sense of chaos and loss.
It seems to me that for all that Gene tells the story to put himself in the best light, as first-person narrators do, he has never come to grips with or made up for what he did to Finny. I remain uneasy with his story as too self-serving, too self-focused. He still seems to be in denial about the evil he has done. Finny doing his best to say it was okay doesn't make it okay. Gene using a lot of heightened romantic language about what a great guy Finny, oh so much better than the rest of us (!), doesn't make deliberately shaking the tree okay. The fact that is seems to have helped Gene not kill anyone in the war or feel hate for the enemy doesn't make it okay. Gene doesn't seem to have to come to grips with the idea that this isn't all about him and what the death did for him. If he thinks destroying another person is okay because it helped him, he still has a lot of work to do to find redemption.