Today we had our seminar over Chapters 2 & 3.
It went about as well as a first seminar can go–lots of “foreshadowing” and general statements that didn’t get us very far at first, but eventually we started dealing with the text on its own terms. We’ll get better at this.
We also dealt with some of the metaphor/symbolism: the waves, Blitzball, the day Finny broke the record, the omnipresence of the war, etc. We even talked about the godlike qualities of Finny a little bit.
One thing that came up–as it always does–is the issue of Finny and Gene as a romantic couple. I’d like to address that quite directly.Usually, the evidence goes something like this:
They wrestle on the quad, they always skip meals with other people to eat together, they sleep on the beach together, Gene is always looking at Finny and Finny is always looking at Gene. They eat dinner at a hot dog stand! Plus, the two places Gene visits when he comes back to campus are stairs and a tree. Hello, symbolism.
While I’m not convinced the New Critics or Historical School would see it as we do, that doesn’t matter. By the standards of Queer Theory, this is all GREAT reading. And Foster would agree.
Gold star to you and you and you and you and you and…
HOWEVER, our laser-like focus on the possible romantic tension between Gene and Finny often makes us miss some of the other possible layers in these early chapters:
- The tension between friendship and rivalry that Gene experiences. He can’t tell Finny he’s his best friend, but at the same time Finny is “too unusual” for rivalry. Gene has an inner war he’s fighting even while the war itself is raging in Europe.
- The nostalgia inherent in the majority of the book being a flashback, which logically positions Finny as a metaphor for the narrator’s lost youth & innocence.
- The essential, extravagant goodness of Finny–he’s perfect! He’s loyal, he’s earnest, he’s beautiful, he’s athletic, he’s honest. A good reader asks: Why does Finny glow so brilliantly in Gene’s memory?
- The knife-edge balance between this perfect, youthful summer and the shadow of the war–what will war do to these boys? How? Why? Also, given Gene’s inner war is happening at the same time, which war is going to destroy his youth & innocence? How?
So let me urge you to use and remember ALL the symbols we have on the table from Foster:
And speaking of sex, remember this slide: