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A Prayer For Owen Meany

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M Dalton

on 29 January 2014

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Transcript of A Prayer For Owen Meany

Literary Devices:
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory and Allusion
Jesus: Owen relates to Jesus
Ghost of the Future: Christmas Yet To Come
Owens Voice: Dwarf characteristic
Dummy: Angel of Death
Armadillo: Claws
Mary Magdalene: Substitutes Tabby
Bible Allusions
Frame story: Story within a story
Foreshadowing
Owen foreshadows the Christmas Pageant
Tabby's death
Owen's death
Themes:
Religious faith is expressed through the characters actions when they are put through difficult situations and are forced to question their own personal beliefs..
Fate and free will is shown through how Owen predicts certain fates, and believes in them, though it is by his own free will, not predestination, that they come to fruition.
Faith is presented in the form of Owen when he advises John to put his trust in God. Owen believes in the idea that God is the reason for everything.
Extra Information:
Plot Summary:
Warning: A Prayer For Owen Meany is not written in chronological order, and neither is this summary.
Character List:
Owen Meany, John Wheelwright, Dan Needham, Tabby Wheelwright, Rev. Lewis Merrill, Hester Eastman, Harriet Wheelwright, Mary Beth Baird, Ginger Brinker-Smith, Mr. Brinker-Smith, Canon Campbell, Mr. Chickering, Harold Crosby, Maureen Early, Mr. Early, Aunt Martha Eastman, Uncle Alfred Eastman, Simon Eastman, Noah Eastman, Ethel, Mr. Fish, Germaine, Mr. Giordano, Harry Hoyt, Mrs. Hoyt, Dick Jarvits, Katherine Keeling, Lydia, Cannon Mackie, Graham McSwiney, Mr. Meany, Mrs. Meany, Mrs. Merrill, The Merrill Kids, Mrs. Needham, Chief Pike, Sagamore, Archibald Thorndike, Buzzy Thurston, Mrs. Walker, Rev. Dudley Wiggin, Barb Wiggin
Author Background:
John Winslow Irving (Born John Wallace Blunt, JR)
DOB: March 2, 1942 in Exeter, New Hampshire.
Father served in WW2 at his birth, and his parents divorced so he never met his true father. His mother remarried a Russian history teacher when he was 6. John has been married twice and has 3 children.
Phillips Exeter Academy (1961), attended University of Pittsburgh, University of Vienna, University of New Hampshire (Cum Lade 1965), University of Iowa (1967).
A Prayer For Owen Meany

Owen Meany
Historical Information:
During the time period of APFOM, the Vietnam war had ensued. Irving discusses the victims of this war, both Natives of Vietnam, and those one normally would not think to include, such as Owen Meany.

Genre/Characteristic of Genre:
Coming of Age Novel, Bildungsroman (a coming-of-age novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character)
By: John Irving
John Wheelwright
Rev. Lewis Merrill
Tabitha Wheelwright
Owen Meany's best friend and the narrator of the novel. Son of Tabby Wheelwright and Rev. Louis Merrill. Raised in Gravesend, New Hampshire. Led to religious faith by the life of Owen, and in 1987 wrote down his story to chronicle the awakening of his own belief in God.
John's best friend, a weirdly skinned dwarf with a high-pitched nasal voice represented in the novel in all caps. Has a powerful personality, and sometimes is bossy. Believes he is God's instrument on Earth. Also believes that everything that happens is fated. Thinks his own dreams are prophecies of his future purpose in life. Accidentally kills John's mother. Represents the relationship between the earthly and spiritual.
John's mother, who keeps his fathers identity secret from him. Killed by a foul ball his by Owen in 1953. Represents an idealized vision of both motherhood and womanhood. Owen has a crush on her.
Doubt-plagued Congregationalist minister in Gravesend, who often speaks to Owen about matters of religious faith. At the end, John learns that Rev. Merrill is his father.
Taught college English before becoming full-time Author
"Many of my wrestling friends find it odd that I’m a writer, just as many of my writer friends in the writing world find it odd that I was – for so many years – a wrestler and wrestling coach. But they seem very similar to me. In both cases you have to be devoted to tireless repetition and small details."
Works in order written: Setting Free The Bears, The Water-Method Man, The 158-Pound Marriage, The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, The cider House Rules, A Prayer For Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, A Widow For One Year, My Movie Buisness: A Memoir, The Fourth Hand, A Sound Like Someone Not Trying to Make a Sound, Until I Find You, Last Night in Twisted River, In One Person
Awards: National Books Award for Fiction for The World According to Garp-1980; Inducted into Wrestling Hall of Fame as “An Outstanding American,” -1992; Academy Award for Best Adapted Screen play for The Cider House Rules-1999; National Board of Review Award for best screenplay for The Cider House Rules-1999; Golden Satellite Award for best motion picture screenplay (adaptation) for The Cider House Rules-1999
Influences: As a teen, Irving read Charles Dicken’s novel, Great Expectations and he claims it changed his life and was the inspiration for his own writing. Also inspired by Herman Melville and his mentor at the University of Iowa was Kurt Vonnegut.
Author Info Cont'd:
Owen Meany
Symbols Cont'd:
Harriet Wheelwright- John's grandmother; symbolizes aristocracy and propriety
Owen Meany- metaphor for Jesus- knows when he is going to die, sacrifices himself to save others, teaches his family about God, born of virgin birth, believes he is God's chosen messenger
Armless Figures- Owen has a strange fascination with armless figures throughout the novel (and ends up having his arms blown off and bleeds to tdeath); Tabby's dressmaker dummy, the armadillo, the statue of Mary Magdelene- they all symbolize Owen's belief that he is not in control of everything, and that he is God's instrument.
Maurina Dalton
Mallory Carty
Beth Joyce

Symbols:
Allusion:
There are many biblical allusions in this novel. One symbolizes Owens transformation to the "Savior" he portrays. '"I CAN FIT IN THE CRIB.' he said modestly." This is when Owen becomes the "Child Christ".
Armadillo: The armadillo serves as a symbol of the friendship between John and Owen. The removal of its claws is meant to represent the taking of Owens hands by God to swing the bat which hit the ball which killed Johns mother.
Owen as the Child of Christ: Parallels showing this significance include Owens knowledge of his own death, his belief and trust that everything happens for a reason, and his position as conductor of ceremony. This relates to his Faith.
Chapter 1: The Foul Ball- John begins the novel saying he will never forget Owen because he is the reason he is a Christian. John remembers how they use to pass Owen around during Sunday school like a doll, causing Owen to loose his baseball cards, which he loved. Owen never complained, only would shout "NOT FUNNY" until he was let down. They grew up in Gravesend, New Hampshire, where Johns family, the Wheelwrights, occupy a position of aristocratic prestige. John's family was better off than Owen's, as Owen's family only owned a granite quarry. John discusses his grandmother, Harriet Wheelwright, the matriarch of the town. He writes about how Owen predicted that John will one day learn who his father is. Owen also introduced John to Wall's History of Gravesend, a book that John refers to. John remembers his mothers pregnancy, and how she refused to discuss his father, only saying that he once took her to Boston for singing lessons. John remembers when Owen pretended to drown and yelled at his friends for not trying to save him. He remembers attending Episcopalian Sunday school with Owen. Owen originally refuses to attend the Academy, saying public school is for people like him, though he does make it in on scholarship, and thanks to Tabby. Owen also kills Tabby at a baseball game when he hits his first ball, and John suspects he takes the ball.
Chapter 2: The Armadillo-
John remembers his mother, who was beautiful and catlike. She either responded well to contact or flinched away. He doesn't remember her flirting, but she was popular with the men. John remembers her telling him about his stepdad, Dan Needham, and how no, she isn't pregnant, and no he isn't John's father. John was six. Dan scares John because he has a stuffed armadillo in a bag for a class he is teaching. He tells John not to look, but he does anyway. He gives the armadillo to John to keep, and John cherishes it. Owen also loves it, and the two of them create a game in which one of them hides it in the John's grandmother's attic, and the other has to find it. John remembers visiting his aunt and skiing with his cousin, Hester, who was obsessed with sex and warned John that he'd become sterile if he didn't stop falling so much. He blames Hester's hyper-sexuality on her environment. Owen is introduced to John's cousins and they are surprisingly fascinated with his small stature and weird voice. They play hide-and-seek and Hester scares Owen, causing him to pee himself. He later tells John that his cousins are not wild, but simply have lacked direction. Owen gives John the baseball cards after he kills his mother and John returns them. John gives him the armadillo to show he still loves him. Owen returns the armadillo without its claws to show that God took Owen's hands to kill his mother. It is snowing in Toronto, and John is upset with Reagan.
Chapter 3: The Angel
Chapter 3 is another memory from right before the death of John's mother. He recalls the dressmaker dummy that his mother had and kept beside her bed. It was always dressed well, since Tabitha was an amazing seamstress. She had a habit of finding expensive clothes in stores, copying the design, and then returning the dress she bought. Sometimes, Dan Needham and John would mistake the dummy for Tabitha at night. Owen and John enjoy dressing up the dummy, and sometimes, Owen would create an outfit that Tabitha actually wore.
However, there's a red dress in her closet that nobody can convince her to wear. It's the only garment she owns that isn't black or white. She wore the dress once, and it was during a production of Angel Street by the Gravesend Players, in which she played the role of a wife who's driven to madness by her evil husband.
Owen spends the night often, and one night, he wakes up to find that he has a fever. He's on his way to tell John's mother but quickly runs back, exclaiming that he's seen an angel by her bed. John goes to look and only sees the dummy, so he assumes that Owen imagined it. Owen insists, however, and later, when John's mother is killed, it stirs Owen's strong belief in predestination – the belief that every action has a reason and every moment in life is fated. He believes that the angel he saw beside Tabitha's bed was not a good angel, but in fact the Angel of Death, and that that night he disturbed it. He believes that this merely put off the time of Tabitha's death. On that night, Owen spends the rest of the night in Tabitha's bed in case the angel returns. After a few hours, John's grandmother abruptly enters, accusing Tabitha of leaving the tap running. Owen, scared by this sudden entrance, screams and wakes half the neighborhood. John writes that Owen said that it was John's grandmother, and refers to her as a banshee. Dan Needham looks this up one day, finding that a banshee is a vision of a loved one's death. John writes that, maybe, Owen wasn't so wrong after all.
John reflects on the acceptance of Dan Needham into their family, and how despite that, it still took Tabitha 4 years to marry him. He tries to decide on the reason as to why they waited, but can't come up with anything. He remembers how the religious communities of the two, the Episcopalians and the Congregationalists, competed over the couple, and how he himself had preferred the Congregationalists. John recalls the sad story of the Congregationalist pastor's wife, who died in New Hampshire, and the remembered the Episcopalians' rector's wife, a loud redhead named Barb Wiggin. When Tabitha and Dan decided on the Episcopalian church, John began going to Sunday school with Owen Meany. He remembers that Dan and Tabitha married in a nondenominational church, and it was the same church in which his mother's funeral was held.
The chapter continues with John's memories of the wedding, and Hester's embarrassment when Owen disappeared with her underwear and left her bare, only to be worse when it rained and soaked her dress. He mentions that Mr. Chickering, the coach who had told Owen to swing at the ball that ended up killing John's mother, is currently battling Alzheimer's. He remembers that Mr. Chickerwing felt responsible for his mother's death. He also mentions the other two kids who had hit before Owen at the Little League game, and how both of them had died tragic deaths in years passed.
John flashbacks to the funeral, and how during the pastor's speech, they'd heard the sound of a high school baseball team practicing nearby. Many of the mourners try not to listen, covering their ears, and Owen continues to repeat “I'M SORRY!” After the funeral, he chooses to live with Dan and switch on occasion to live with his grandmother. He recalls seeing Owen at his mother's grave, and helping, at Owen's request, to steal the dressmaker dummy so that Dan won't stare at it and make himself upset. After they steal it, Owen decides to keep it, taking it home dressed in the red gown.
The chapter ends with John admitting that he now believes in angels, although it hasn't really helped him in life. He quotes: "Leave off from wrath, and let go displeasure: / fret not thyself, else shalt thou be moved to do evil." John says that he has felt wrath and has been moved to do evil.
Chapter 4: The Little Lord Jesus-
It is the first Christmas without John's mother so they stay in town. Instead, John and Owen look around the dorm, finding several people who Owen declares "NOT HAPPY." Owen refuses to play the Announcing Angel again, and is instead cast as the Christ Child. John is Joseph. Owen continues to take over the production, until many call him the "director." John criticizes his own church in current day 1987, saying the clergy is messed up, as one is a racist, one wears faded clothes, etc. He reflects on children fighting when they were forced to go to church when he was a child, and says he no longer goes to Christmas pageants as the one in 1953 that Owen did was enough of a miracle for him. They perform A Christmas Carol and Owen helps the stuttering Reverend Merrill. John goes to Owen's house to see that the Nativity scene has a faceless Mary and no baby Jesus. John then discovers that Owen never told his parents he was performing as Jesus in the pageant. Mrs. Meany speaks to John for the first time since Tabby died, saying she is sorry for her death. John's mother's dressmaking dummy is in Owen's room and Owen discusses how he doesn't believe in coincidences, only destiny. John tells his family that Owen said that he won't change his voice, as he believes it will one day serve God a special purpose. Owen and John are exploring the dorms again, and witness the Brinker-Smiths have sex, which Owen declares MAKES PEOPLE CRAZY." Owen is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come and scares everyone watching during rehersal.
Brief(er) Summary:
Owen and John are friends starting from early childhood. They continue being friends even though Owen kills his mom. Owen and John explore their sexuality together, discovering porn and trying on condoms with one another. Owen decides he is God's messenger and dedicates his life to spreading God's word. He is Baby Jesus in a Christmas pageant and gets angry with his parents for attending, saying that it is sacrilegious. He is also the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, and is so terrifying, one girl pees herself. Owen sees a vision of how and when he will die. Owen and John practice a basketball move called The Shot, which is where John catches the ball, passes it to Owen, and then he lifts Owen in the air and Owen puts the ball in the basket. They use this technique later on to save Vietnamese children.
Owen is expelled from school for making fake ID cards and he removes Mary Magdalene the Statue's arms and head and welds it to the stage. Owen graduates from public high school, and he and John meet again in college. Owen continues to want to be a hero, hoping his ROTC that pays for school will send him to Vietnam. However, his height hinders him from doing so. Owen works as a casualty-assistance officer, and he and John meet in Phoenix, AZ where Owen is on assignment. John meets the family of a dead veteran that Owen is helping. The son died in Vietnam, and the brother, Dick Jarvits, is distraught, wishing to be sent to war so he can kill Vietnamese for revenge. Owen and John go to the airport to drop John off, only to see some nuns escorting Vietnamese children. One nun asks the boys if they will escort the male children to the restroom and they comply. The enraged Jarvits comes in a tries to kill the children with a grenade, but the grenade is caught by John and they perform The Shot to protect the children. Owen manages to get the grenade to get into a window alcove and holds it there to make sure it doesn't roll back down into the room. It blows his arms off and he bleeds to death, but he calms the children using his child-like voice. Owen was cheerful when he died, and received the Soldier's Medal. The book ends with John describing people's reactions at his funeral and begging God to give Owen back.
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