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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