When Dr. Stanpole, the surgeon who causes Finny’s death, shares the devastating news with Gene, the information stuns Gene, but he does not cry; Gene describes his inability to weep over his friend’s death and funeral when he explains, “I could not escape a feeling that this was my own funeral, and you do not cry in that case” (194). Finny’s official demise embeds the naiveté lost in Gene’s life. Without this youthful presence in his life, Gene grasps the cruelty of humanity and the reality of war. Gene finally acknowledges the war and discloses, “‘I’ve joined the Navy” to Mr. Hadley, Brinker’s father, when he asks Gene about enlistment (199). Finny’s ingenuous belief that war is a game diminishes in Gene’s mind because he finally lives by his own opinion that humanity has flaws. With this mature principle driving his life, Gene embraces his own beliefs, instead of cowering behind his friend’s way of thinking to avoid conflict. Gene finally can enter adulthood as he fully discovers his identity by enlisting into the war. Hence, Finny’s death symbolizes Gene’s transition into his own, mature identity after he faces his internal battles with accepting himself.
Throughout his time at the Devon School, Gene realizes the toxicity of his insecurities, overcomes his obstacles, and develops his own identity and beliefs. Finny’s injuries, the closure of the Devon Winter Carnival, and Finny’s death represent each of these steps in Gene’s coming-of-age. Therefore, through these symbols, Knowles clearly establishes, throughout generations of readers, that young adults must deal with psychological conflicts before they are able to fully