1. On the beach, Finny calls Gene his "best pal," but Gene cannot respond in the same way. At this point in the novel, how is Finny a "best pal" to Gene? How is Gene not a "best pal" to Finny? Do the friends' feelings about each other change as the novel progresses? Explain your answers with references to the novel.
2. The tree by the river strongly recalls the Tree in the Garden of Eden, the site of original sin. Three different characters offer their own ideas about Gene's moral guilt in making Finny fall. Leper accuses Gene of being always "a savage underneath," Finny talks about "some kind of blind impulse," and Gene confesses to "some ignorance inside me." What do each of these descriptions mean? Which do you think is closest to the truth? Defend your answer with evidence from the novel.
3. The two rivers, the Devon and the Naguamsett, play important roles symbolically in the novel. What does each river tell us about Devon? How does Knowles use the rivers to make his point about innocence and experience? Why is it important that the Devon runs into the Naguamsett and the Naguamsett runs into the sea?
4. Leper's delusions are clearly the product of his psychosis. Yet when he describes the events at the tree in his testimony, he seems to be telling the truth in a kind of poetry. Discuss the images and poetic symbols Leper uses in his testimony about Finny's fall. What does Leper's poetic testimony tell us about this tragic event?
5. Leper's mother and Brinker's father are the only parents who actually appear in the novel. What does the character of each parent tell about that parent's son? If both parents represent the older generation, what conflict exists between the generations?
6. Like Gene, Brinker grows over the course of the novel. Discuss Brinker's changing views of Gene, the war, enlistment, and responsibility. How does the Brinker who first appears at Gene's door become the Brinker who prepares to leave Devon with Gene in the last chapter?
7. Finny's views on the war include great contradictions, from his wearing of the pink shirt as an emblem, to his conspiracy theory, to his letter to Chiang Kai-Shek proposing to join the Chinese army. What does Finny really think of the war? Do his feelings change over the course of the novel? If so, how and why?