In the final chapter it is once again June, as it was in the first chapter, a year earlier. The Army Parachute Riggers have now set up operations in the Far Common of Devons campus. It is a peaceful summers day and Gene writes: “There could be no urgency in work during such summers; any parachutes rigged would be no more effective than napkins” (189). After Finnys death, no one accuses Gene of being responsible for what happened “either because they could not believe it or else because they could not understand it” (189).
In the Butt Room, Gene meets Brinkers father, a gruff World War One veteran. He tells Gene: “times change, and wars change. But men dont change, do they? You boys are the image of me and my gang in the old days” (190). Mr. Hadley is jealous of the boys opportunity to fight and displeased to find out that neither Gene nor his son wants to be where the combat is. “Your war memories will be with you forever,” he tells the boys, if you can say that you were up front where there was some real shooting,
then that will mean a whole lot to you in years to come” (191). Mr. Hadley leaves, trailing cigar smoke, and Brinker tells Gene: “It gives me pain, personally. Im not any kind of hero, and neither are you. And neither is the old man, and he never was, and I dont care what he says he almost did at Cheteau-Thierry” (193).
Brinker blames his fathers generation for World War II. Gene realizes that Mr. Hadley is not the cause of the war, but rather the cause of his sons own disillusionment and resentment. Gene compares Brinkers blame for the war with Finnys created fantasy and disagrees with both of them: “it seemed clear that wars were not made by genererations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart” (193).
With the arrival of the Parachute Riggers, Gene claims that the happiness that once existed at Devon has disappeared. Although he never talks about Finny, he continues to feel his presence, claiming that even Finnys death could not quench his vitality. Gene tries to live as Phineas did, by assimilating the world “without a sense of chaos and loss” (194). Of Finny, he writes: “Nothing as he was growing up at home, nothing at Devon, nothing even about the war had broken his harmonious and natural unity. So at last
I had” (195).
Gene, having used all of his hatred against Finny, is now ready to join the war. During the war he never killed anyone, and never detested the enemy. He wrtes: “I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there” (196). Gene details how everyone else at Devon had responded to the enemy by constructing defenses, everyone except Phineas. The final paragraph runs thus: “All of them, all except Phineas, constructed at infinite cost to themselves these Maginot Lines against this enemy they thought they saw across the frontier, this enemy who never attacked that way-if he ever attacked at all; if he was indeed the enemy” (196). And so the novel ends with Gene in the final year of the war, the narrative not quite returning to its original starting point in 1958. For all we know, our thirty-two year-old narrator is still trudging across that muddy field.