A main theme of the novel is Gene's struggle to come to grips with having wronged a dear friend in a terrible way in a moment of impulse. The novel asks: how does one deal with the guilt of having done a wrong that can't be remedied?
The trouble begins when Gene builds a false narrative in his mind, based on projecting his own competitive nature onto Phineas. He believes that Finny is trying to divert him from his studies so that he will do poorly in school. As Gene is the top scholar, and Finny is the top athlete, Gene believes Finny is doing this to "win" a competition between them. Gene comes to think the friendship is a pretense and that Finny is manipulating him.
As a result, in a moment of anger and hate, Gene bounces the tree limb Finny is about to jump from into the water, so that Finny falls and is badly injured with a broken leg. Afterwards, Gene realizes that not only has he done a terrible thing, Finny, in fact, wasn't really competing with him at all. Later, due to a second...
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