Review the opening scene of the novel, in which Gene, now an adult, visits Devon. What places does he most want to see again?
Why? After reading the novel, what do you think the real purpose of the visit is? Does Gene’s visit support the idea that he has found inner peace or contradict it?
I'd like to add that the marble staircase holds importance as a place of violence as well. After the mock trial contrived by Brinker, Finny runs from the room, unable to hear of Gene's role in his injury. It is there, on that marble staircase that Finny takes his final fall, the one that eventually dislodges the bone that kills him. This is why Gene mentions how hard those stairs look, & wonders why it never occurred to him before.
Since both places Gene chooses to visit are places where violence and pain are the dominant memories, it seems that he is looking to put something to rest. We later learn that the something is his guilt over Finny's fall and his death. In returning to Devon, Gene is seeking confirmation of his own innocence and clear conscience. It may seem at first that this visit contradicts the idea of Gene achieving inner peace, since he's returning to the scenes of the crime as it were. I think that he actually found inner peace years before his return, but if he can visit those sites without the old guilt surfacing, then he has finally won his freedom.
The two things that Gene wants to see are, first, the marble staircase in one of the buildings (First Academy Building) and second, a tree down by the river.
I think he wants to see the stairs because they were such an everyday part of his life. He went up them time and time again as a student. By contrast, the tree was a place where something really important happened -- it's the tree that he made Finny fall off of.
To me, the opening implies that Gene has found inner peace. When he sees the stairs, they don't look any different to him. But when he gets to the tree it seems much smaller. This implies that he's okay now with what happened in the tree and it doesn't haunt him anymore.