I did not do it, Gene seems to be saying, my knees did it.
A fall and a tree sharply recall the story of Eden, the Fall of Man, and with it the end of innocence.
In Brinker's informal Butt Room trial, and later, in the more formal Assembly Room investigation into Finny's accident, Gene persists in withholding the truth, refusing to admit his responsibility.
Gene's resistance to the truth is a resistance to growth, a retreat into his passive, conforming past, where he felt safe and good.
The realization that Finny is not acting as a rival or an enemy, but simply as himself, makes Gene feel insignificant.
Like a child who discovers he is not the center of the universe, Gene rages at the insult.
A Separate Peace tells the story of Gene's painful but necessary growth into adulthood, a journey of deepening understanding about his responsibility and his place in a wider world.
At the beginning of the novel, the young Gene stands unconcerned, self-absorbed, by the tree that will test his true nature.
For the first time, Gene's sense of right and wrong comes not from bells or exams or masters, but from his own shocked soul.
This is the end of innocence, and the beginning of experience for Gene.