But faced with this self-knowledge, Gene rejects it, defensively retreating into his habitual conformity, his comforting sense of himself as an obedient boy.
What starts out as a confession and an apology to Finny — a mark of true growth into adulthood and responsibility — quickly becomes an angry rationalization, an attack on Finny that constitutes a second injury.
In Brinker's informal Butt Room trial, and later, in the more formal Assembly Room investigation into Finny's accident, Gene persists in withholding the truth, refusing to admit his responsibility.
Gene's resistance to the truth is a resistance to growth, a retreat into his passive, conforming past, where he felt safe and good.
In Devon, obedient to the rules, approved by the masters, Gene is safe, but he cannot grow.
Growth can come only through conflict and struggle, and Gene's conformity acts as a shield against such challenges.Frightened and threatened by Finny's freedom, Gene reacts like a child — sullen, withdrawn, indirect in expressing objection.Instead of joining Finny wholeheartedly or honestly talking through his feelings (about studying for exams, for instance), Gene suppresses his mixed emotions and turns the new experience of freedom into another kind of conformity: He decides that he must follow Finny's whims without exception or risk losing his friendship.For the first time, Gene's sense of right and wrong comes not from bells or exams or masters, but from his own shocked soul.This is the end of innocence, and the beginning of experience for Gene.With Finny's fall, Gene recognizes in himself what Leper condemns as "the savage underneath," the tragic flaw Finny more kindly refers to as "a blind instinct." Gene's sense of guilt, however much he hides it, represents his first pang of morality that needs no outside confirmation.Gene knows what he did, and he knows that he is guilty.The revelation of Gene's guilt and his refusal to admit it cause Finny's second fall, the accident that ultimately ends his life.Only in the friends' last conversation, in the infirmary, can Gene face Finny and freely discuss the fall on Finny's own terms, without rationalization or duplicity.I did not do it, Gene seems to be saying, my knees did it.A fall and a tree sharply recall the story of Eden, the Fall of Man, and with it the end of innocence.