Leper is an introvert and a misfit at Devon school. He's a minor character who symbolizes what happens in the wake of Phineas and Gene's dramatic adventures. As Phineas and Gene are competing with each other about manhood, Leper is out looking at nature, examining butterflies, or cross-country skiing. Sometimes...
Leper is an introvert and a misfit at Devon school. He's a minor character who symbolizes what happens in the wake of Phineas and Gene's dramatic adventures. As Phineas and Gene are competing with each other about manhood, Leper is out looking at nature, examining butterflies, or cross-country skiing. Sometimes Leper will attempt to participate in sports with the boys, or watch them jump out of the tree into the river, but he always seems to be playing near the boys and not exactly with them. He tends to be overlooked or unnoticed for the most part.
Five important events that happen to Leper are as follows: he witnesses Gene jounce the tree limb that causes Phineas to break his leg; his life's goal changes when he sees the ski patrol film; he enters the army prematurely and before anyone in his class; he suffers a mental breakdown and goes AWOL; and finally, he does not betray Gene at the mock trial about Finny's broken leg.
First, in chapter 4, Leper is the only witness to the incident that causes Phineas to break his leg. Leper had actually announced that he was going to jump out of the tree and "save his face" as Phineas calls it (57), but Gene and Finny scramble up the tree ahead of him due to the argument they were in. The fact that Leper witnesses this event is significant later on in the story as the boys create a mock trial to address it. At the time, though, he is dismissed as usual, which is also significant. Leper is that boy who everyone underestimates and never really becomes friends with.
Next, Leper is enthralled with nature. Since all the senior boys will most likely be drafted into World War II at the end of high school, Leper chooses to go into the army because of the ski patrol film he sees. Gene explains as follows:
". . . a recruiter from the United States ski troops showed a film to the senior class. . . To Leper it revealed what all of us were seeking: a recognizable and friendly face to the war" (124).
Leper falls for this because he probably doesn't think he can fit into the war effort in any other way, and that by skiing or doing something with nature, he will finally be accepted somewhere. Unfortunately, Leper does not understand that he will also have to go to boot camp and do other grunt work before qualifying for something like the ski troop. This causes him to be quite traumatized when he finally realizes the army for what it is—hard work and homesickness.
Once Leper is in the army, he can't stand being next to other men all day, every day. He was always one to be alone and away from the other boys at school; so, when he loses his freedom to wander off from the others, he does it anyway and goes AWOL (absent without leave). Not only that, but he is psychologically traumatized by the whole ordeal. Chapter 10 shows Gene going to Leper's family's home to see what happened. What Leper describes scares Gene:
". . . they turned everything inside out. I couldn't sleep in bed, I had to sleep everywhere else. I couldn't eat in the Mess Hall, I had to eat everywhere else. Everything began to be inside out. And the man next to me at night, coughing himself inside out. That was when things began to change" (150).
Leper then has hallucinations about women's heads on men's bodies, and Gene can't handle listening to his trauma. Leper isn't the shy guy anymore. He doesn't care what he says to people, now, so he tells Gene how much he despises him. He tells Gene he knows there's a "savage" underneath Gene's skin, "like that time you knocked Finny out of the tree" (145).
Leper is finally confident enough (or crazy enough) to openly acknowledge what Gene really did to Finny. This creates more tension because now Leper can gain popularity by telling the other boys at Devon what really happened that day. In the end, Leper doesn't betray Gene, but not because they are "friends." He remains quiet about the situation because he sees how the other boys really see him—as a fool. Leper realizes that no one paid any attention to him before they knew he had witnessed the accident, so why help them discover the truth now? Leper refuses to conform to their mock trial by not testifying. Brinker tries to get Leper to talk by saying, "This is important," but Leper responds as follows:
"So am I. . . I'm important. You've never realized it, but I'm important too. You be the fool. . . you do whatever anyone wants whenever they want it. You be the fool now" (176).
Even though Leper seems to be bitter after his rough year, he has gained the confidence to tell the big man on campus to back off. In addition, he has the guts to stand up for himself in front of the others rather than feeling inferior to them. In a way, Leper needed to go through all of these events to see that he is as important as the other boys, even if he doesn't turn out to be a World War II hero.