As he thinks about Finny saving him in the tree, it occurs to Gene that it was Finny's fault he was in the tree in the first place. He decides that the two cancel out.
Saving Gene's life should have won Finny Gene's eternal gratitude. Instead, Gene's jealousy makes him resent Finny.
Finny and Gene ask six friends to join their society. Finny proclaims that every one of their nightly meetings will begin with a leap from the tree. The leap never ceases to terrify Gene, but he doesn't voice his annoyance.
Even as the boys form their society and enjoy life, Gene's fear in contrast to Finny's carefree attitude eats at him.
Finny hates the Devon summer athletics program. When he finds a medicine ball on the fields where the seniors do calisthenics in preparation for joining the army, he invents "blitzball" (named after "blitzkrieg"): a game in which everyone tried to knock down the ball carrier, and when there was a new ball carrier everyone tried to knock him down.
Just as he reinvents the senior fitness test tree jump, Finny transforms the war-bound seniors' ball into a popular sports game. Sports are Finny's version of war, pure fun in which there are no winners or losers.
Blitzball soon becomes popular. Finny is, of course, the best at it, just as he's the best at socializing with other students and charming the Devon faculty.
Gene's admiring depictions of Finny nearly always have an underlying tinge of envy.
As narrator, Gene says that every person has a moment in history that defines, or even freezes, his or her life. He explains that World War II was his life-defining time.
Gene conveys how completely World War II shaped his identity.
One day, Finny and Gene go swimming in the Devon pool. Finny decides he wants to break the school record, and succeeds on his first try. Gene wants to tell everyone, but Finny makes him promise not to. Gene thinks that this makes Finny "too unusual for rivalry."
Gene craves the approval of others, but Finny doesn't. Finny's achievements and his ability to brush those achievements off make Gene not just jealous, but aware he isn't in Finny's league.
Finny then says that real swimming must be done in the ocean. He proposes that they go to the beach, a bike ride of a few hours. Though the trip breaks school rules and therefore makes Gene nervous, he agrees to go.
Finny's unfettered spontaneity contrasts with Gene's cautious approach to life. Yet Gene admires Finny too much to ever say no to him, and hates this fact too.
At the beach, Finny and Gene play in the waves. But after a big wave overpowers him, Gene returns to the beach. Finny frolics in the waves for an hour alone.
Gene hates anything that is more powerful than him, whether a wave or Finny.
Afterward they walk the boardwalk, eat hotdogs, and get a beer at a local bar using fake military draft cards.
The fake draft cards highlight their youth and lack of seriousness about the war.
As they settle down to sleep among the dunes, Finny tells Gene that he is his "best pal." Gene begins to agree, but can't bring himself to say the words.
Finny's feelings for Gene are genuine, but Gene's feelings toward Finny have been corrupted by jealousy.