I found it. I found a single sustaining thought. The thought was, You and Phineas are even already. You are even in enmity. You are both coldly driving ahead for yourselves alone. . . . I felt better. Yes, I sensed it like the sweat of relief when nausea passes away; I felt better. We were even after all, even in enmity. The deadly rivalry was on both sides after all.
This quotation is from Chapter 4, as Gene slowly becomes conscious of the tremendous resentment and envy that he feels toward Finny, who is a far superior athlete, has a much stronger personality, and can talk his way out of any trouble. We see Gene develop a strategy for coping with this resentment: he tells himself that Finny feels exactly the same way, convincing himself that just as he envies Finny’s athleticism so must Finny envy Gene’s academic achievements. This vision of a “deadly rivalry” between himself and Finny sustains Gene for some time; it enables him to avoid feeling shame about his resentment toward Finny and drives him to excel academically in order to spite his friend. Yet the vision is only temporary: after he realizes that Finny shares neither his sense of competition nor his resentment, Gene sinks into a jealousy more bitter than before, convinced of Finny’s moral superiority as well. It is in the shadow of this second envy that Finny’s fall takes place.