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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.
The freedom exhilarates Gene at times — the first forbidden jump from the tree brings him to a new, heightened awareness of life — but uncertainty nags at him.
Finny's whims disturb Gene's comfortable routine of study and proper behavior, habits of obedience that win the approval of adults.
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.
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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.
But Gene's sudden recognition that Finny does not want him to fail proves even more devastating.
If Finny is simply being Finny in his free, careless ways, then Gene has lost the meaning of his resentment, the energy that has been fueling his drive to succeed despite his enemy's plotting.
Frightened and threatened by Finny's freedom, Gene reacts like a child — sullen, withdrawn, indirect in expressing objection.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.