A Prayer for Owen Meany

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A Prayer For Owen Meany By John Wheelwright

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

In A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Wheelwright reflects on all the impactful memories he experienced throughout his childhood, highlighting the ones he shared with his best friend Owen Meany. During the course of this novel these characters enter a transition from childhood to adulthood, losing their innocence and gaining a sense of maturity through the events they are forced to endure. They are seen in a period of growth, overcoming the obstacles of adolescence, puberty, loss, discovering where they belong and who they should be. This coming-of-age novel depicts John Wheelwright’s journey into becoming the best and better version of himself as he conquers the challenges of life.

A Prayer for Owen Meany ticks off all the boxes to be considered a coming-of-age novel. It follows John Wheelwright along in life from being a child to a full grown adult. He is thrust into this rollercoaster at an early age, particularly due to the killing of his mother, Tabby Wheelwright. A mother is the one lifeline a character can hold onto and allow themselves to be a child, no matter how grown a person is they will always be a baby in the mother’s eyes. John was stripped of this before his teenage years which was the first factor that forced him to grow up, to lose the light in his eyes far earlier than the children his age. He was forced to endure the tragedies of life most experience in their middle ages. The first sign of his maturity is shown when he doesn’t hold a grudge against Owen for his mother’s death, an act many would not take. “God knows, Owen gave me more than he ever took from me – even when you consider that he took my mother”. Having Owen as a friend was a kickstart in John’s spiritual journey, the bond they shared helped him have faith and a connection with God. He was able to withstand tragedies rather than escalating them and he didn’t blame Meany for his mother’s death. Instead he was emotionally mature enough to cope with the turn of events and allowed his friendship with Owen to strengthen as a result.

John Wheelwright reached a higher level of emotional and spiritual maturity than many of the children his age due to his friendship with Owen and the way his life turned before his teenage years, yet he struggled to mature sexually. Physically, he turned out like any other ordinary boy going through puberty, it was his mental approach that suffered a setback. At a young age, Wheelwright crushed on his cousin Hester Eastman and engaged in conversations with Owen regarding his mother’s physical body. “…the game called “Last One Through the House of Hester”; maybe they realized, later, that I began to intentionally lose the game”. Even later, during the first Christmas Eve without his mother, he develops lustrous feelings for one of the maids in his home. His sexuality was damaged after the events of his mother and when Hester didn’t reciprocate his feelings for her. Wheelwright believes any bodily desires that sprung upon him were the results of his father’s “evil” that was passed onto him. This proves he took more time to sexually mature as he blamed his lustrous feelings on his absent father rather than come to terms that it was his body’s natural urges during puberty.

The reason for John’s spiritual maturity rests solely on Owen Meany’s shoulders. Meany was the cause of the rise and questioning of his faith in God, along with many of the other characters in the novel. Wheelwright is proven to have gained a better sense of spiritual maturity throughout the book because he gains the courage to face the truth regarding himself and his past. In the midst of the novel he shows a burning interest in finding his father in a hope it’ll answer his questions from his mother to his unexplained lustrous thoughts. In contrast to the beginning, where he appeared frustrated with Meany’s attempts of saying God used him as an instrument to Tabitha’s death, he accepts it near the ending. He eventually did believe God played a part when He created Owen Meany, claiming his voice was high-pitched and his height short so he wouldn’t appear intimidating but rather safe to the Vietnamese children he would in time save.

John Irving wrote A Prayer for Owen Meany with the intent of it being perceived as a coming-of-age novel as highlighted by the recurring themes of emotional, sexual, and spiritual development. Through the audience’s eyes, John Wheelwright is faced with obstacle after obstacle that chips at his innocence until there is nothing left. He is forced to grow up at a rapid pace following the events after his mother’s death and finally nears the end of his adolescence when he loses the last lifeline to his childhood, Owen Meany. Every tragedy that occurs gives Wheelwright a new lesson to be learned in life, which he takes in stride and uses to become the best version of himself.

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166

Irving’s Owen Meany: Protagonist’s Intelligence in Prayer

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

In A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving, Owen possesses an extraordinary amount of intelligence at a young age. After soaring through high school, besides the hiccup of his expulsion, he continues life with a career in the military to fulfil God’s plan. Despite all of the changes in his life, Owen never loses his remarkable literary love and comprehension, and helps Johnny confront his most difficult task yet- the dreaded Master’s thesis.

Owen Meany excelled in all school subjects, and had a bright, young, motivated mind. He especially made use of these talents in high school English class to show remarkable understanding of difficult texts and to aid Johnny in the improvement of his below-average intelligence. Even though Owen does not pursue a career utilizing his above-average language abilities, he still makes use of it “ ‘ TO BEGIN, YOU SIMPLY TAKE ONE OF HIS BLUNT OBSERVATIONS AND PUT IT TOGETHER WITH ONE OF HIS MORE LITERARY OBSERVATIONS–YOU KNOW, ABOUT THE CRAFT LIKE THIS ONE: ‘A STORY MUST BE EXCEPTIONAL ENOUGH TO JUSTIFY ITS TELLING. WE STORYTELLERS ARE ALL ANCIENT MARINERS, AND NONE OF US IS JUSTIFIED IN STOPPING WEDDING GUESTS, UNLESS HE HAS SOMETHING MORE UNUSUAL TO RELATE THAN THE ORDINARY EXPERIENCES OF EVERY AVERAGE MAN AND WOMAN’ ’ ” (Irving 519). Irving alludes to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” which furthers Owen’s continued attachment to his extraordinary literary knowledge and understanding. Additionally, this reference exemplifies Owen’s dedication to Johnny. Throughout their school years, when Johnny struggles, especially in English class, Owen was always around to bail him out. Owen never turned down a situation in which he could help his best friend, especially one involving a subject in which his knowledge was quite mature and extensive.

Through the employment of allusion in this novel, Irving conveys the hardships Owen encounters, but also his courage to endure difficult situations. This also serves to compares the story that plagues the Mariner’s life to the experience of Owen’s own life. The Mariner embarks on a treacherous sea journey along the way encountering Death and trying to avoid it while contrastingly, Owen confronts life ready and willing to face death. In a manner more similar to the Mariner, Johnny also faces a rough sea and just only sticks around for the journey out of pressure and necessity. Furthermore both the Mariner and Johnny reveal their seemingly woeful tales to anyone who may lend an ear to listen, no matter how unsuspecting or innocent. This allusion also reinforces the role Johnny plays in this novel. Johnny is similar to the Mariner in that he is timid, and just happens upon unfortunate circumstances with no control in his life whatsoever. They then both choose to share their peculiar tales as storytellers. The parallels and contrasts of Johnny and the Mariner give a deeper, intellectual connection to the overall story, just like Owen Meany

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262

The Incidental Depiction of Jesus Christ by John Irving In, a Prayer for Owen Meany

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is full of symbols that help reveal information about the characters and themes in the novel. The most prominent symbol is Owen Meany.

Owen is directly and indirectly represented as Jesus throughout the novel. In a Christmas pageant of 1953 at his church, he is cast for the part of Baby Jesus. Owen receiving this role in the play serves as a direct correlation between Owen and Jesus. This is also this most obvious sign that Owen is meant to be a Christ-like figure. In the same year, Owen receives the role of The Ghost of Christmas Future in A Christmas Carol. During the last performance of this production, Owen sees a tombstone with his name and apparent date of death. Jesus was aware of when he was going to die, and now Owen is too. Another very straightforward connection between the two are the circumstances surrounding Owen’s birth. After Owen’s death, his parents admit to John in a conversation that Owen was not of natural birth; he was a miracle child. They tell John that Owen had been a virgin pregnancy, similar to that of Jesus.

There are also not so obvious implications that suggest that Owen is a Christ-like figure. Owen Meany is a religious individual who very much believes in fate. In fact, he believes that he has been chosen by God to ensure the fates of everyone else. Owen believed that he interrupted the Angel of Death from taking John’s mother, Tabitha, in her sleep, which is why he ended up being the one to kill her. Owen also makes John practice a basketball move he refers to as “The Shot” with him until it is perfect. He does this because he knows how he is going to die, and that this move will help him save others when the time comes. He believes that when he dies it will be beneficial to others and potentially even save them. Owen died saving others, and Jesus died for the sins of others; their deaths are eerily similar.

Owen stands out from his peers from the beginning of the novel. Even when he speaks it is written differently than when other characters speak. This is done to make Owen stand out as unusual; he is different than the others. Along with that, Owen appears to have this power over others that allows him to influence them. The separation between Owen and his peers serves as a representation of Owen as a higher power.

The most distinguished theme in A Prayer for Owen Meany is faith. Faith is on every page of the book from start to finish. Owen himself represents the very person whom faith revolves: Jesus Christ. He is like a preacher of religion to his peers, without legitimately being a preacher. His life, and life circumstances cause those around him to have faith. John states that he is only a believer in religion because of Owen Meany. John was able to see Owen develop into the Christ-like symbol that he is first hand. He saw and was involved with Owen’s sacrificial death, which causes him to make a decision about his own views on religion and faith.

Another main theme in the novel is family. Family tells the reader a lot of information about John and Owen as the story goes on. John is a Wheelwright, a well off family that can trace its origins back to the voyage of the Mayflower. John was born into a privileged life, but is still deprived of information that is vital to his existence. Owen tells John that God will one day help him find out the true identity of his father. John had hoped his mother would tell him the answer, but her fate was secured by Owen before she had the chance to. Owen’s parents are more in the background of his life than normal parents. He has the dominating position in his relationship with them. This is because he is meant to be further represented as a higher power.

The symbol of Owen Meany as a Christ-like figure in A Prayer for Owen Meany helps develop the themes faith and family throughout the novel. Owen’s miraculous life affects all the people he is close to. His status as a symbol of Jesus shines through in all aspects of his life and makes others have faith as well.

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214

An examination of the cowardice of the character Johnny in A prayer for Owen Meany

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, protagonist Johnny experiences outward conformity while inwardly questioning throughout the duration of his entire life. An exemplar of cowardice, Johnny uses passive aggression and the voices of others to disguise his inability to take a stand. The tendency of Johnny to silently question while taking no action creates the trait of cowardice that dominates his character throughout the entirety of the novel.

It is said that “actions, not words, create change”. Johnny, although inwardly critical of the Vietnam War, not only took no actions to create a change, but was not even vocal or expressive about his feelings. In a time dominated by protests, rallies, and demonstrations, Johnny could not even bring himself to voice his distain for the war, expressing that “even when the Anglicans asked me what I thought of Prime Minister Pearson’s “old point of view”…. I actually said I agreed! Eve though- as I’ve admitted- I’d never met a harsh deserter, not one” (463). The generation of the Vietnam soldiers, upon return to America, worked to create an America that supported and listened to those who had, previously, not been listened to. Arizona Senator John McCain is just one example. McCain, unsatisfied with the war and the treatment of those who served, ran for office to combat these issues with more productive policy. Johnny never shared his opinion, let alone took action to combat the problems in society that he saw. Because Johnny was inwardly critical of the Vietnam War, but did not take any actions to create change, he was a coward.

Prior to the Vietnam War, Johnny conformed to agree with his classmates within the Academy, leaving the questioning to Owen and The Voice. “I did, or tried to do, everything Owen did” (287), said Johnny, dependent on Owen to be outspoken due to his inability to use language and speak well. As Johnny struggled throughout his educational career to succeed in English, reading, and writing, he was willing to give Owen the power to speak on his behalf. “The Voice was our voice; he championed our causes; he made us proud of ourselves in an atmosphere that belittled and intimidated us” (295). Johnny was dependent on Owen to vocally question events and standards, even though Johnny shared the same criticisms and questions Owen did about society. Johnny was too much of a coward and simply lacked the confidence and ability to say so. He settled for conformity, never voicing his true feelings. Thus, the inward criticism and outward conformity spurred from his dependence on Owen and struggle in English and made Johnny a coward.

Johnny is also a coward because he cared more about impressing people than standing up for his own beliefs. This standard led him to a life of inward criticism, and outward conformity. “I never actually said— to any of my Canadian friends— that I suspected these deserters were no more likely to become “public charges” than I was likely to become such a charge. By then, Canon Campbell has introduced me to old Teddybear Kilgore, who had hired me to teach at Bishop Strachan. We Wheelwrights have always benefited from our connections” (463). While working in a church and dedicating his life to teaching both English and the value of Christ, Johnny preaches morality and Christian superiority. However, this message conflicts with his actions as he inwardly criticized the war that represented the opposite of morality, while outwardly conforming in his words of support. Johnny placed more value on his societal status and networking abilities, thus hindering his ability to stand up for what is right, even if it means standing alone, leading to a lifetime of conformity.

Johnny’s interpretation of history and political issues showcases his cowardice. “When some of the Grace Church on-the Hill Anglicans asked me what I thought of Prime Minister Pearson’s “old point of view”— that the deserters (as opposed to the war resisters) were in a category of U.S. citizens to be discouraged form coming to Canada- I actually said I agreed! Even though- as I’ve admitted – I’d never met a harsh deserter, not one” (463). The “Church on-the Hill Anglicans” is a reference to John Winthrop’s speech, A City on a Hill, from the founding and settlement of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop said that “America was to be a City on a Hill”, a model of superiority and moral purity. The phrase was used by both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan in major speeches. Johnny does not hide his love for Kennedy and despise for Reagan; his views strongly reflect the environments in which he was in- the popular opinion of the Academy strongly favored Kennedy, while the views of Canada in his time there did not support Reagan because of America’s involvement in Vietnam. The fact that both men had the same outlook on America shows Johnny’s cowardice as he is unable to go against what is popular and accepted in his environment. Johnny is a product of his environment as he cherry picks who he will criticize and who he will admire, thrusting him into a cycle of outward conformity.

Over the course of his life, Johnny conformed to be like those surrounding him, while questioning society inwardly. A lifetime of silent protest and dependence on those around him to voice their opinions and teach him what to think caused him to be a coward and unable to form and voice his own opinions.

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242

John Irvng’s Description of the Personality of Grandmother Wheelwright as Illustrated in His Book, A Prayer for Owen Meany

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, Harriet Wheelwright doesn’t act like a stereotypical grandmother. Not only does she continuously voice her opinions, but she’s also quick to judge anyone and everyone. Although not conventional, Johnny’s grandmother cares for him and Owen in her own special way through an interesting relationship even though it may seem condescending towards others.

Grandmother Wheelwright has a personality all her own. Just as older generations tend to do, she complains about the new technological developments and how life was much better in the olden days while still enjoying them “My grandmother observed that television was draining what scant life remained…‘clean out of them’; yet she instantly craved a TV of her own” (Irving 257). Irving uses the hypocritical divide within the gap between the older and younger generations to employ and draw attention to the irony. As a direct descendant of the Gravesend’s founders, she expects herself to maintain a certain level of status through her elegant clothing and demonstration of wealth- in this case being through the purchase of a television.

Harriet criticizes the up-and-coming television for its lifesucking qualities but all the while falls victim to the race of keeping up with the societal norms for her sky-high reputation.

Through the use of irony Irving extends the explanation of Harriet’s elevated status with the accompanying snobby attitude, and attributes of the older generations. Exemplified through her sharp, condescending tone and high-class way of life it is surprising that Harriet would succumb to such a petty fancy as a television. She epitomizes the idea of the elderly getting stuck in their ways. However, even for someone of her socioeconomic status, a new technological development proves difficult to resist. Life arrives at a point where people have to start changing with the times, and Harriet unintentionally finds herself in this stage. Also, the addition of the television set levels her with the general population of Gravesend, including Owen Meany. Not even the outlandish Harriet Wheelwright, with her lavish clothing and overzealous sentiments could overcome these cravings for a television. This shows that deep down, although not with prevalence, she shares qualities with the majority of Gravesend’s residents which enables her to truly connect with and relate to the economically disadvantaged Owen. This example of irony helps the reader to better understand the psyche of Harriet Wheelwright; suddenly, she doesn’t seem so cold and unfeeling anymore.

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322

The Cowardice of Popularity: Johnny’s Character

May 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

In John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany, protagonist Johnny experiences outward conformity while inwardly questioning throughout the duration of his entire life. An exemplar of cowardice, Johnny uses passive aggression and the voices of others to disguise his inability to take a stand. The tendency of Johnny to silently question while taking no action creates the trait of cowardice that dominates his character throughout the entirety of the novel.

It is said that “actions, not words, create change”. Johnny, although inwardly critical of the Vietnam War, not only took no actions to create a change, but was not even vocal or expressive about his feelings. In a time dominated by protests, rallies, and demonstrations, Johnny could not even bring himself to voice his distain for the war, expressing that “even when the Anglicans asked me what I thought of Prime Minister Pearson’s “old point of view”…. I actually said I agreed! Eve though- as I’ve admitted- I’d never met a harsh deserter, not one” (463). The generation of the Vietnam soldiers, upon return to America, worked to create an America that supported and listened to those who had, previously, not been listened to. Arizona Senator John McCain is just one example. McCain, unsatisfied with the war and the treatment of those who served, ran for office to combat these issues with more productive policy. Johnny never shared his opinion, let alone took action to combat the problems in society that he saw. Because Johnny was inwardly critical of the Vietnam War, but did not take any actions to create change, he was a coward.

Prior to the Vietnam War, Johnny conformed to agree with his classmates within the Academy, leaving the questioning to Owen and The Voice. “I did, or tried to do, everything Owen did” (287), said Johnny, dependent on Owen to be outspoken due to his inability to use language and speak well. As Johnny struggled throughout his educational career to succeed in English, reading, and writing, he was willing to give Owen the power to speak on his behalf. “The Voice was our voice; he championed our causes; he made us proud of ourselves in an atmosphere that belittled and intimidated us” (295). Johnny was dependent on Owen to vocally question events and standards, even though Johnny shared the same criticisms and questions Owen did about society. Johnny was too much of a coward and simply lacked the confidence and ability to say so. He settled for conformity, never voicing his true feelings. Thus, the inward criticism and outward conformity spurred from his dependence on Owen and struggle in English and made Johnny a coward.

Johnny is also a coward because he cared more about impressing people than standing up for his own beliefs. This standard led him to a life of inward criticism, and outward conformity. “I never actually said— to any of my Canadian friends— that I suspected these deserters were no more likely to become “public charges” than I was likely to become such a charge. By then, Canon Campbell has introduced me to old Teddybear Kilgore, who had hired me to teach at Bishop Strachan. We Wheelwrights have always benefited from our connections” (463). While working in a church and dedicating his life to teaching both English and the value of Christ, Johnny preaches morality and Christian superiority. However, this message conflicts with his actions as he inwardly criticized the war that represented the opposite of morality, while outwardly conforming in his words of support. Johnny placed more value on his societal status and networking abilities, thus hindering his ability to stand up for what is right, even if it means standing alone, leading to a lifetime of conformity.

Johnny’s interpretation of history and political issues showcases his cowardice. “When some of the Grace Church on-the Hill Anglicans asked me what I thought of Prime Minister Pearson’s “old point of view”— that the deserters (as opposed to the war resisters) were in a category of U.S. citizens to be discouraged form coming to Canada- I actually said I agreed! Even though- as I’ve admitted – I’d never met a harsh deserter, not one” (463). The “Church on-the Hill Anglicans” is a reference to John Winthrop’s speech, A City on a Hill, from the founding and settlement of Massachusetts Bay Colony. Winthrop said that “America was to be a City on a Hill”, a model of superiority and moral purity. The phrase was used by both Presidents Kennedy and Reagan in major speeches. Johnny does not hide his love for Kennedy and despise for Reagan; his views strongly reflect the environments in which he was in- the popular opinion of the Academy strongly favored Kennedy, while the views of Canada in his time there did not support Reagan because of America’s involvement in Vietnam. The fact that both men had the same outlook on America shows Johnny’s cowardice as he is unable to go against what is popular and accepted in his environment. Johnny is a product of his environment as he cherry picks who he will criticize and who he will admire, thrusting him into a cycle of outward conformity.

Over the course of his life, Johnny conformed to be like those surrounding him, while questioning society inwardly. A lifetime of silent protest and dependence on those around him to voice their opinions and teach him what to think caused him to be a coward and unable to form and voice his own opinions.

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313

“The Little Lord Jesus”: The Existence of Higher Powers in A Prayer for Owen Meany

March 20, 2019 by Essay Writer

In a Prayer for Owen Meany the relationship between religion and faith is often contradictory to societal beliefs causing confusion. Johnny’s questioning of organized religion and his growing faith creates a tension. The last chapter of the novel reconciles the tension through the parallelism that occurs between Owen and religious, supernatural imagery, indicating that faith and religion are not necessarily linked. Thus the novel suggests that the existence of higher powers is dependent on an individual’s perceptions, not traditional norms.

Throughout the span of Johnny’s life, the contrast between his struggle to find truth in religion and his increasing faith in his best friend, Owen Meany, illustrates the inner battle Johnny faces while determining what he believes in. The novel begins with Johnny criticizing religion claiming, “every study of the gods, of everyone’s gods, is a revelation of vengeance toward the innocent” (9). The use of “study” brings to question the difference between religion and faith, as in the passage religion is something to be studied, faith is something to believe in. Johnny is questioning the validity of organized religion, as he sees it as more corrupt than beneficial. His uncertainty towards Christianity is apparent throughout the novel as he questions the practice of religious figures between various branches of Christianity. The act of deciding his favorite practice of religion puts a strain on Johnny’s faith, which Owen analyzes by saying that “BELIEF IS NOT AN INTELLECTUAL MATTER” (115). Comparable to Irving’s use of “study” in the previous passage, “intellectual” suggests that using analytical thought, in regard to faith, dismisses its strength.

In youth, religion played a larger role in Johnny’s life than faith, which is contrasted in adulthood, after Owen’s death, when “a small, strong hand (or something like a small, strong hand) guided [his] own hand to the light switch; a small, strong hand, or something like it, pulled [him] forward from where [he] teetered on the top step of the stairs. And his voice–it was unmistakably Owen’s voice–said: ‘DON’T BE AFRAID. NOTHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU’” (526). The repetition emphasizes the implication, even before it’s outright said, that Owen is helping Johnny from beyond the grave. The italicized text indicates the bewilderment Johnny must have felt in the moment, and further it signifies how much he truly believes Owen saved him. The miracle of Owen coming back to Johnny from death perpetuates his faith in Owen as a godly force. Much more than a boy or childhood friend, Owen is a miracle, someone to look up to–God. The belief in faith that Owen instilled within Johnny cascades into his adult life when he found that “[he] was more of an Anglican than [he] ever was a Congregationalist or an Episcopalian–or even a nondenominational, Hurd’s Church whatever-[he]-was. [He] was a participant at Grace Church on-the-Hill in a way that [he] had never been a participant before” (465). Before Owen’s death Johnny’s experience with religion had been inconsistent, having switched branches of Christianity as a child, critiquing the authority and practice in Church. It’s only after Owen’s death does Johnny start strongly identifying as a Christian, because he believes in the miracle that was Owen. The emphasis on word choice in the passage signifies the different stages of Johnny’s life, suggesting the last is most meaningful, as he’s participating actively, making his own deliberate choices about faith. Johnny defines Christianity for himself when he disregards traditional norms and allows himself to believe in the person he has always been faithful in, demonstrating how higher powers do not have to take traditional forms.

The parallelism between Owen and religious, supernatural imagery reconciles the tension between faith and religion, exhibiting how faith and traditional perceptions of religion can be two separate entities, further suggesting that the existence of godly figures is dependent on a person’s faith. As a boy Owen’s peculiar physical characteristics are often drawn attention to for the purpose of displaying his physical weakness. The irony throughout the novel, however, is that despite his small stature Owen has great spiritual power, demonstrated in the context of religious imagery as when “he looked like a descending angel–a tiny but fiery god, sent to adjudicate the errors of our ways” (72). The heavenly imagery associated with Owen is suggestive that he is more than human and that he possesses some form of holy power. Owen and Jesus are analogous through adjudication, as Jesus was asked to adjudicate sins, indicating that Owen has the same purpose. His physical characteristics represent him as a religious figure as do the way he is perceived figuratively: “The editorial and the subsequent weekly essays that Owen published in The Grave were ascribed not to Owen Meany by name, but to “The Voice”; and the text was printed in uniform upper-case letters” (293). The parallelism between Owen Meany and Jesus Christ is shown through the way Owen is portrayed at his school newspaper. He’s referred to as “The Voice” with a capital V that is similar to how God is capitalized, as He. Similarly Owen and Jesus both have distinct forms of recognition in terms of their writing. In the Bible Jesus’s words are distinguished by red text, comparable to Owen’s capitalized writing in the paper (and his dialogue). The similarities in style and recognition indicate that Owen is as transcendent and important to his following (his community at Gravesend) as Jesus was to Christians.

Furthermore Owen’s presence, although physically small, carried great weight among his community. Often a leader, his voice is prevalent as is the light imagery that he is associated with, seen at the end of the novel when “the sun had set, vivid streaks of vermilion-colored light traced the enormous sky, and through one of these streaks of light [Johnny] saw Owen’s plane descending–as if, wherever Owen Meany went, some kind of light always attended him” (607). The imagery associated with Owen describes him as a figure followed by a constant presence of light: a supernatural, heavenly characteristic. Light is often implicit of positivity and purity, characteristics reminiscent of angels and holy figures. Moreover, the most explicit comparison of Owen to Jesus is the Meanys’ suggestion that Owen is the product of a “virgin birth” (549). While many find the notion preposterous, the implication of it suggests that Owen, like Jesus, was born fated for a sacrificial cause. The parallelism between Owen and Jesus resolve Johnny’s contradictory feelings about organized religion and faith, because he no longer has to decide which takes the more prevalent role in his life. Johnny’s redefinition of Christianity, through means of Owen, exhibits the flexibility of faith and religion, showing that, although separate entities, they can coexist; in Johnny’s case his religion is dependent on his faith in Owen.

The tension between Johnny’s questioning of religion throughout the novel and his growing faith is reconciled by the parallelism that occurs between Owen and religious imagery in the last chapter of the novel, which indicates that faith and religion are not necessarily linked. The contradicting forces of spirituality, religion and faith, have been tearing at Johnny his entire life. It was not until Johnny was able to define how religion would play in his life, through the means of fate, that he was able to have confidence in his spiritual identity. By allowing Owen to be the higher power in his life Johnny proves that the existence of higher powers do not have to depend on societal norms, but rather an individual’s beliefs.

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378

Friendship in A Prayer For Owen Meany

March 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving is a humorous, thrilling novel that takes the reader to unexpected places. Structurally, the book is not in chronological order. The narrator, John Wheelwright, dictates memories, anecdotes, and scenes from his experiences with his best friend, Owen Meany. Irving follows the journey from childhood friendship into adulthood between the two, showing the true meaning of friendship and the impact that Owen has on John. Using these two appealing characters, Irving presents themes and moral lessons in a constantly entertaining way. Through A Prayer For Owen Meany, Irving discusses religion and the persistence of friendship, even through adversity.John Irving’s narrator, John Wheelwright, serves as a foil to the character of Owen Meany, the protagonist. Meany embodies the qualities of a true leader while John grows more like his father: doubtful and lost. In the beginning of the novel, immediately there is a clear difference between Owen and Johnny. In the field of academics, Owen is the valedictorian of his class while he helps John not to fail in his studies. Owen is very sure of his belief system and Johnny, very doubtful and unsure about his beliefs or feelings towards God, admits that he skips “a Sunday service now and then, makes no claims to be especially pious, [and says he] has a church-rummage faith-the kind that needs patching up every weekend” (2). Compared to Johnny’s more passive personality, Owen is extremely active. For example, in the Christmas pageant of 1953, Owen demands not to be the Announcing Angel: “PUT SOMEONE ELSE UP IN THE AIR,” Owen said. “MAYBE THE SHEPHERDS CAN JUST STARE AT THE ‘PILLAR OF LIGHT.’ THE BIBLE SAYS THE ANGEL OF THE LORD APPEARED TO THE SHEPARDS – NOT TO THE WHOLE CONGREGATION. AND USE SOMEONE WITH A VOICE EVERYONE DOESN’T LAUGH AT,” he said, pausing while everyone laughed. (159) Even though everyone is laughing at him, Meany follows through anyway, adamant in his decision to not be the angel. Throughout the novel, John has a constantly worships Owen as a hero. The narrator comments, “Thus did Owen get his way, again; ‘On the hay’ was where he would lie…” (165) after he gets the part as baby Jesus. This excerpt shows Johnny in awe of his friend, the way Owen takes charge of the situation and creates the pageant the exact way he wants it. John on the other hand, the passive character, ends up being Joseph out of the fact that Owen prescribed him the part. Owen has an advantage over Johnny in the sense that Owen has a purpose in life that is very clear to him. On the other hand, Johnny can do nothing but follow his friend from class to class, major to major, into college. When Owen follows his mission and goes to the army, John is left without a sense of direction. With Owen gone, he has no one to tell him what his next move will consist of. He ends up going into graduate school because he fears the day when he actually has to make a decision about what he will do for the rest of his life. In the end, he does make a decision for the rest of his life by going to school for a degree in English. However, Owen has no hesitation when it comes to his future and his decision-making: “Owen Meany got his scholarship to the University of New Hampshire; he signed up for the ROTC…” (343). This could also stem from Owen’s strong relationship with god. He believes he is God’s instrument, making every action meaningful, making every move count. Another example is when Owen accidently kills John’s mother by hitting a foul ball to her head. However, he claims to Johnny, “GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER. MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD’S INSTRUMENT” (87). Owen actually thinks that God wanted him to kill John’s mother, Tabitha, and that he was doing God’s bidding because when he saw an angel in John’s mother’s room, he thinks he disturbed it, interfering with the scheme of fate. John has a weak relationship with god and is left doubting the existence of a higher power and a purpose for himself. The productivity deck is stacked in Owens favor because John has to play his own game; he is not just a chess piece being directed by God. He has no idea if his next day will be his last or if his next decision will matter in the least, whereas Owen just follows his road map to the date on his grave. The fact that John grows doubtful and lost throughout the book is only partially his fault. The early death of his mother puts a premature veil of grief over his eyes, clouding his potential for the future. The other reason is his friendship with Owen, a crippling indulgence for John. It is crippling in the way that it takes away Johns power of choice: he only follows the directions of his best friend. Owen has the qualities that John can never have: He is persuasive, has a mission, is motivated, is prepared, and is sure of himself, all of which leave him a very strong man. On the other hand, John is passive, has no mission, has no initiative, is unprepared, and doubts himself and his beliefs, all of which leave him a very weak man. Owen is the person that John could never be; he has the character that John could never have. He lives the way that John could never live, and he dies in a way that John could never die. One theme in A Prayer For Owen Meany is religion and believing in the existence of God. John admits that “Owen Meany is the reason [he believes] in God. [He] is a Christian because of Owen Meany” (1). Owen had such an effect on Johnny’s faith because of who Owen was and all that he accomplished. His life was unusual to say the least. Meany had supernatural visions and dreams that he believed were of the time and place of his death. During the play of A Christmas Carol, Owen faints after seeing his own name on Scrooge’s tombstone. The tombstone said “THE WHOLE THING” (254), which became the first vision Meany had of his own death, a death that eventually becomes reality. Owen believes that he acts as God’s instrument and offers miraculous evidence of God’s existence. For example, Owen claimed that John’s father would “know that [his] mother was dead – and that – when [he] was old enough – he would identify himself to [him]…that was the day Owen Meany began his lengthy contribution to [his] belief in God” (10). At the end of the story, Meany’s claim came true when Wheelwright’s father, Reverend Louis Merrill, revealed himself to him. Clearly, Owen has an extremely strong faith, to the extent that he believes God is working through him. Johnny remains troubled over his faith because Owen’s sacrificial death seems unfair to him. Owen saved the lives of many Vietnamese children, what he believes is his destiny, but kills himself in the process. He loses both of his arms, and then bleeds to death. As he died, all he had to say to the children was “DOONG SA – DON’T BE AFRAID” (614). His destiny was fulfilled. Johnny has the problem of accepting God’s will. Even if John has a hard time believing in God, he definitely puts faith in Owen himself and Owen appears to be a God-like character. Another prevalent theme in Irving’s text is the persistence of friendship, even through adversity. Even though Owen killing John’s mother was an accident, it was still extremely difficult for Johnny to lose his mother. However, Johnny gives Owen his armadillo “to show [him] that [he] loves him enough to trust anything with him – to not care if [he does or does not] get it back. It had to be something he [knew he] wanted back. That’s what made it special” (83). So, even though Owen did kill his mother, Johnny recognized that it was an accident and forgave his friend. Their friendship persisted, even through that adversity. Secondly, while in the gym practicing their basketball move “The Shot” (338), the two friends argue over the fact that Owen thinks he is “GOD’S INSTRUMENT” (337):“I SUPPOSE YOU HEARD THAT FAITH CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS,” he said. “THE TROUBLE WITH YOU IS, YOU DON’T HAVE ANY FAITH.” “The trouble with you is, you’re crazy,” [John] told him, but I retrieved the basketball. “It’s simply irresponsible,” [he] said – “for someone your age, and of your education, to go around thinking he’s God’s instrument!” (338)However, the two friends get over the argument and perform “the shot” in less than four seconds, a new record for them. Irving’s text shows that friendship can persist even through adversity. Using two appealing characters, Irving presents themes and moral lessons in a constantly entertaining way. The two themes, religion and friendship can be applied to today’s society, making Irving’s text even more rewarding for the reader. Many people today struggle with finding God or strongly believing, just like Johnny. In addition, friendships can come and go. However, Irving shows that a true friendship can last, even through adversity.

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413

Arms and Hands: Symbols of Power, Faith, and Doubt in A Prayer For Owen Meany

February 20, 2019 by Essay Writer

In many religions, arms and hands are regarded as symbols of divine power and expression. Author John Irving uses this tradition in A Prayer for Owen Meany to illustrate Owen’s power and portray Owen as a deity. A Prayer for Owen Meany tells the story of two best friends growing up, and how one’s religious devoutness influences the other into late adulthood. Owen is sure of his faith throughout his life, and as a young adult believes he is the ‘Christ Child’. His belief stems from his supernatural ability to see the future, to sense death, and his birth from a ‘virgin’ mother. John, his best friend, struggles with his faith and identity throughout his life and is greatly influenced by Owen and his actions, beliefs, and powers. Arms and hands are motifs in the novel that add depth to the meaning of the story.

Arms are often used in religion to symbolize a deity’s power, which is illustrated in Irving’s novel; the armadillo, dressmaker’s dummy, and Mary Magdalene are symbols used to depict the ways in which Owen receives power from God. In Christianity, the power of God is written in the Bible as “the arm of God”. According to the Rev. Edward Craig Mitchell in Scripture Symbolism: An Introduction to the Science of Correspondences, Or Natural and Spiritual Counterparts, “The arm of Jehovah signifies the Divine Power. In a special sense, the arm of Jehovah is the Divine Humanity, assumed in ultimates, or externals, in Jesus Christ,” (Mitchell, 165). At the end of A Prayer for Owen Meany, when Owen saves a dozen children from death, it is his arms, and the arms of Johnny, that propel him into the ceiling to throw out the grenade. Thus, it is his arms which emphasize his power as a hero, and which consummate the theory that Owen’s power to see the future is a trait of his divinity. This incident leaves him armless, symbolizing that as he dies God is relieving Owen of his duties as “His instrument”, and that Owen has lost purpose for life. Throughout the novel, armless figures are used to symbolize that God has dismembered someone in order to express His will. After he kills Johnny’s mother, Owen and Johnny take part in a sort of exchange of offerings, in which Owen takes the claws of a stuffed armadillo both boys hold sacred. The taking of the ‘arms’ of the armadillo represents that it was not Owen’s hands which killed Tabby Wheelwright, but God’s. This notion is expressed also in the “Angel of Death” that comes for Tabby. When Owen walks into her bedroom and sees the armless dressmaker’s dummy, he believes it to be the Angel of Death. He says, “THAT ANGEL WAS VERY BUSY- SHE WAS MOVING, ALWAYS MOVING. ESPECIALLY HER HANDS- SHE KEPT REACHING OUT WITH HER HANDS.” (450). That night, Owen had ‘taken’ the arms/hands of the dressmaker’s dummy and assumed its role as the Angel of Death. After he kills Tabby, this becomes evident to him, and he realizes that he is the hand of God. Further, at Gravesend Academy Owen is expelled because of his illegal copying of draft cards and contentious relationship with the administration. In protest he mutilates the statue of Mary Magdalene. By removing her arms and placing her in sight of the administration, Owen demonstrates his power to control his own fate and execute the will of God. Arms are used in A Prayer for Owen Meany as a way for God to communicate through Owen. The symbols of the armadillo, dressmaker’s dummy, and Mary Magdalene represent how Owen receives power from God.

Hands are also prominent symbols in religious scripture and A Prayer for Owen Meany. The Rev. Edward Craig Mitchell claims that God blesses his constituents by “the laying-on of hands”, and thus the laying-on of hands symbolizes the communication of divine power (168). Irving writes that “you simply had to put your hands on Owen,” (31), and that girls who saw him were “compelled” to touch him (352). Throughout the book, characters such as Johnny’s mom, Mary Beth Baird, Hester, and Owen’s Sunday School peers, are moved to touch him by some unnamed force. This force is the attraction of his supernatural powers; by touching Owen (‘the instrument of God’), one is able to feel closer to God and receive his message. In Buddhism, mudras, or finger-based patterns, are used to express and communicate divine messages. According to Stanford University’s Exotic India Newsletter, mudras are “used to evoke in the mind ideas symbolizing divine powers or the deities themselves” (Kumar). When Owen amputates Johnny’s finger to help him avoid the draft, he is using his ‘powerful’ hands to decide Johnny’s fate, and remove some of his ability to communicate with God. As a consequence, as an adult, Johnny is uncertain of his faith. Irving writes that Johnny went through a period of concrete faith in Canada, but began to question it. Johnny says: “my belief in God disturbs and unsettles me … belief poses so many unanswerable questions!” (504). Johnny’s faith is founded on his belief in miracles, namely Owen’s existence; his doubt is founded on questions that he cannot answer, most of which are political or ethical. Irving uses hands in A Prayer for Owen Meany to symbolize communication, or lack thereof lack of in Johnny’s case, with God.

In A Prayer for Owen Meany, author John Irving presents Owen Meany as a deity through symbolism, particularly through the symbols of arms and hands. In Christian and Buddhist scripture, arms and hands are used as symbols of religious authority and communication with a divine power. Irving uses arms and hands, particularly those of Owen, to show that he has the power of God, and that his life is devoted to expressing the will of God. Other symbols include the armadillo, dressmaker’s dummy, the statue of Mary Magdalene, and Johnny’s amputated finger. These represent the transfer of celestial capacity from an object onto Owen. Owen’s power as an expression of God’s will is the miracle that is the foundation of Johnny’s faith, and is used to conclude that faith and doubt come in conjuncture.

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362

A Close Reading of the Death of JFK and Owen Meaney’s Reactions

January 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

John Irving’s esteemed 1989 novel, “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is a lot of things – but it is not subtle. Over the course of its 600 pages, “Owen Meany” lends to us a surplus of heavily symbolic and provocative moments, which illustrate its protagonist’s tragically manufactured fate as well as the struggles of humanity against inhumanity during the storm that was the Vietnam War, and all the years of calm before it. However, even in dealing with such a loud subject matter, and a protagonist with a PERMANENT SCREAM, Irving manages to weave in a few very quiet, understated scenes – most of which, upon first glance, may seem to be simply skimmable. Upon second glance, a lot of these moments add significantly to the depth and the intricacy of this story – certainly none of them are put in by mistake.

Take, for example, the scene where Johnny, Owen, and the gang are watching John F. Kennedy’s assassination on television (pg. 441 – 443). It seems fairly insignificant, taking place directly after a discussion between Johnny and Owen about the complexities of high school geology. Of course, it’s always significant when a President dies, but nothing seems to occur in this scene – besides a brief meltdown, courtesy of Harriet Wheelwright. However, some exchanges and narratives in this scene can give the reader a lot of insight regarding what Owen must be going through, with his dream always in the back of his mind.

The scene starts when Ethel enters the room, announcing that Missus Wheelwright would like to see Owen and Johnny in the TV room. She is immediately met by Owen’s startled reaction – “IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE TV?” (pg. 441). This question more or less sets the tone for this scene and this generation. Although the Wheelwrights (and Owen), proper and traditional people as they are, sought to avoid it, they are addicted to television – which, as Hester so eloquently observes, gives good disaster. Johnny points out in this scene that the death of President Kennedy more or less marks the birth of television, giving it more command over the American people than ever before, in its ability to give them escape or allow them to more thoroughly engage with the times. However, Johnny also sees an ominous side to the sudden dominance of television – it makes death somehow approachable – inviting, and romantic. He says, “… It makes the living feel like they have missed something – just by staying alive” (pg.442), which gives Owen more than anyone incentive to always be watching.

When first exposed to the President’s murder, Owen says, “IF WE FIRST APPEAR IN THE PLEISTOCENE [era], I THINK THIS IS WHERE WE DISAPPEAR…” (pg. 442). This is unexpected coming from Owen – to associate the end of mankind with this particular event – because at this point in the novel, Owen doesn’t really care for JFK. Less than twenty pages earlier, he goes on a rant describing how the President is only masquerading as a moralist and how he’s abusing his power so he can seduce and use America like he uses Marilyn Monroe (using her up). Here, Owen concludes that he will be used by men like John F. Kennedy. Owen also makes unsavory remarks about the former President after spending days on end watching and rewatching his murder – much like he does his own in his dream. He says, “I GET THE POINT. IF SOME MANIAC MURDERS YOU, YOU’RE AN INSTANT HERO – EVEN IF ALL YOU WERE DOING IS RIDING IN A MOTORCADE” (pg. 442). It’s evident that Owen does not believe that the disappearance of JFK marks the disappearance of man. Instead, the appearance of this murderous maniac trope does.

In an immaculate instance of foreshadowing, Harriet Wheelwright asks, overwhelmed by the thought of wasting away in her old age, if Owen, too, would rather be murdered by a maniac – to which he responds, “IF IT WOULD DO ANY GOOD – YES.” (pg. 443). And at the end of the novel, we know that Owen is killed by a maniac and it does do some good; he saves a group of school children led by nuns, he saves Johnny – he even attempts to save his own murderer (of course, until Major Rawls kills him) – but does the ‘goodness’ of his dying deed excuse the fact that he was used by the aforementioned political seductors of his time? If men like that hadn’t created a war, Owen wouldn’t have a role in it – he might never have had a dream at all.

“FORGIVE THEM FATHER,” Owen says, “THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.” (pg. 381)

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