Explain the significance/importance of the quote below.
"When you are sixteen, adults are slightly impressed and almost intimidated by you. This is a puzzle, finally solved by the realization that they foresee your military future, fighting for them. You do not foresee it....In such a period no one notices or rewards any achievements involving the body unless the result is to kill it or save it on the battlefield...." Chapter 3
After reading the quote many times, it dawned on me that World War II was not the only thing that faced these boys during their senior year, although the significance of them facing the war is the major issue here. But after looking at the part that talks about a person's physical achievements outside of the war, I realized that this is probably the explanation behind Finny not wanting to show the whole school that he broke the 100 meter swimming record. Most of the book focuses on Gene's fascination with Finny's physical abilities in the field of sports, not on the field of battle.
The other factor that I see in this quote is the line between age and youth. From the dawn of time until the end of it there has been and always will be a gap between teenagers ad adults. Here Gene says that the adults are intimdated by the young kids. That seems to be merely his teenage perspective coming out; however, the authorial intrusion mid-sentence shows Gene looking back as an adult in his teachers' shoes at the time who must have thought about the war facing the boys. It is an interesting perspective that provides clues into both perspectives. The line between age and youth may seem like years, but not after an experience like war, or the experiences that he had there at Devon during his senior year.
In the first part of this quote, Gene is underlining the position he is in, along with the rest of the boys in the school, regarding the war, which is the most profound event of the 20th century. Boys of Gene's age are almost certain to be called up to fight while those who are will not.
In a way, the nation's future and even the future of the world depends on Gene and his friends and young men like them. Perhaps this seems like a bit of an exaggeration, but this is the idea behind the quote.
There is a uniformity to service, both literal and figurative, which makes all young men in America roughly equivalent during the war. Age and base-line physical ability are all that seem to matter. Personality and individuality are set aside. This is what the boys have trouble understanding, according to the second part of the quote.
For much of their lives up to this point, Gene and his friends have been striving to distinguish themselves. Gene's attempts to be top of the class and his attempts at training for the Olympics become relatively meaningless.
These young men were living for the war. This continues to be true for Gene as he mentions elsewhere in the novel. The war is his constant reference frame, never fading from his mind. His world is defined, for better or worse, by the war.
Thanks a lot :D