This novel delves into the topics many contemporary teenagers face, including internal conflict struggles with identity, the complexities of friendship, and the realities of peer pressure. Gene and Finny, two 16-year-old boys at an elite boarding school in New Hampshire, are dealing with all of these common teenage obstacles and their inevitable draft into the armed forces during World War II.
The tree and marble stairs represent many themes, including war and Gene’s struggle with identity. The tree is part of a hardening regimen, and where Finny tries to strengthen his and Gene’s friendship. It is where Gene makes the fatal decision to take out his anger at himself on Finny.
Blitzball highlights Finny’s inability to take sides, making him a terrible choice to be a soldier. Finny doesn’t know things like jealousy and doesn’t understand the motivations behind what makes people divide in hatred. Blitzball is also a “fun” take on a scary war, a cross between baseball and the word “Blitzkrieg". It is an escape from reality for the boys.
The Winter Carnival is another escape from reality for the boys, and where Gene realizes that Finny is set on making sure that peace reigns triumphant on the Devon campus, even in the face of war. At Devon, as long as Finny was making sure there was some kind of fun, then war could not reach them. He dances a “choreography of peace” on the prize table, blissfully ignoring the war that he can no longer be a part of.
Finny’s injury brings an end to sports, and an end to the possibility of his participation in the War. It is also a constant reminder to Gene of what he has done to Finny, and it pushes him to try to keep Finny from the harsh reality that things will never be the same again. Finny’s leg also causes his death, and with it, the death of the war Gene had been fighting within himself all along.