Wednesday, April 29, 2009
A common theme in “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is that of amputation and limbs. The idea appears at least five noticeable times throughout the story. One case is in John’s armadillo. He and Owen played with the stuffed toy for a very long time, and loved it dearly. John had received the toy from Dan, who later suggested he give it to Owen to show him he forgave him for the death of his mother. John did give it to him, but was greatly upset when he realized Owen cut off the claws, which meant the armadillo could no longer stand upright. In this case, the amputation symbolizes how the armadillo could not do anything without its claws, just as we cannot do anything without the guiding hands of God. The next case of amputation happens with John’s grandmother’s servant, Lydia. Lydia had cancer, which required her leg be removed. Of course, after that she was put in a wheelchair. But because of the love John’s grandmother felt for her, she kept her in the home as a friend instead of a servant. She became more and more like John’s grandmother, and sort of became a mirror into the future. Everything she experienced, the grandmother feared she would soon experience too. Lydia’s god in this case, was John’s grandmother. She began to mirror her god, as Christians are often urged to do. Her loss of limbs meant she became completely dependant of the god she had previously served. Another case is less noticeable, but something Owen is almost obsessed with, the dressmaker’s dummy. John’s mother made dresses for herself, so she had a dummy that fit the exact body shape she did, causing John to fearfully mistake it for her sometimes. Because of this, John was reluctant to believe that Owen really saw a ghost when he claimed he did. After the death of John’s mother, Owen asked for the dummy, which John did give up to him. The lack of limbs the dummy had represents the hopelessness of survival for John’s mother. Without limbs, it is impossible to do menial tasks without the aid of someone or something else. Without the aid, a person would surely die, just as Tabby did. Of course, later in the book, John’s own finger was cut off, which meant he could not join the army. Because Owen was a sort of God- figure to John, this symbolized him giving up everything to do God’s will, which for him was not joining the army. The final case of amputation or limbless- ness, was Owen’s insistence that he was indeed an instrument of God, and that his hands were the hands of God. He did as all the other characters were urged to so often by himself, to give up his hands and his will for that of God.
In “A Prayer for Owen Meany”, the book opens up with this verse: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let you requests be made known to God”. That particular verse, which comes from the letter of Paul to the Philippians, is a thread that stays throughout the whole book. Throughout the book, John, who is shaky in his faith, still follows this verse in his own way. He puts his faith, not into God, but into Owen, who many people truly see as God’s instrument. Owen does many things that reinforce the idea, the simplest being taking charge. When he is a small child, he is never able to do this, which seems to be so because of his size. As he gets older though, he begins to grow confident that both his size and his voice is a gift from God, to assist him with God’s plans. Soon, he begins taking charge of the plays Dan puts on, frightening even adults with his power. In the church Christmas plays, he also begins to use some power. “‘MARY BEST BAIRD HAS NEVER BEEN MARY,’ Owen said. ‘THAT WAY, MARY WOULD BE MARY.’” (161). These suggestions lead to some anger, but also some awe from both his fellow classmates, as well as his elders. Owen has much more powerful moments than these, though. The first happens quite early in John’s life, which is when Owen accidentally killed John’s mother. Of course Owen was distraught, but at the same time, he knew it was meant to happen, as he believed he had earlier chased away the angel of death. The second injury he created was when he cut of John’s finger much later in life. Both times, he did this to perform the will of God, which caused John to believe Owen Meany really caused much more good than bad. He cut off John’s finger so that John would not have to go to the army, which is a comforting thing to John. Though it may seem gruesome to the reader, John takes great comfort in it. Also, Owen seems to be able to predict the future, which is shown right before his death. He always felt he would die saving children from Vietnam, and in the arms of a nun. When he was not in Vietnam on the day he knew he was going to die, he worried that his vision was not true, but in the end, he was right after all. His voice and small stature helped him in the end, and as he always claimed, God gave him the body and the voice for a reason. Finally, the idea of his birth to virgin parents, which John never fully believed, was another reason why many were in slight awe of him, or if not, why Meany felt he was the instrument of God. John respected him, and in a sense worshipped him, always listening to what he said. In this way, he had no fear, but put all his trust into Owen, “God’s own instrument”.
In “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving, religion and sexuality played very conflicting roles throughout the book. Even as a very young child, Owen is aware of the importance religion plays in his life, and is very opinionated about his role in God’s purpose, as well as the roles of others. At the same time, he is very aware of the female body in a sexual way, which is first portrayed in an innocent way with Johnny’s mother, but later in a much more overt sexual manner with Hester, who was called “Hester the Molester” by her older brothers, because of her extremely sexual manner. Johnny mentioned that the only one who could make a sexual comment about his mother was Owen Meany, because he was always honest. In his strange way, Owen announced “‘YOUR MOTHER HAS THE BEST BREAST OF ALL THE MOTHERS.’,” (29). Owen’s own mother never left the house, and was not really a mother figure at all. Instead, Owen took comfort from Tabby, Johnny’s mother. A tabby is often thought of as a type of cat, and in this case, the image of a mother cat allowing multiple kittens to nurse at once is brought to mind. In this case, breasts are a source of maternal comfort for Meany, while he may not yet realize the sexual implications. Later, he finds himself infatuated with Hester, who is very flirtatious but also uses her body as a weapon. The games she invents are not tinted with an innocent hint of sexuality, but are instead, very much the opposite. Owen, at this point, has become more aware of his own sexuality, and later tells John that sex only makes people crazy. The sexual nature of his being reminds the reader that though he may be God’s instrument, he is indeed still human, unlike Jesus, who refrained from any sinful behavior or thoughts. The fact that the reader cannot get into John’s mind as much could almost make him more like a Christ figure, because his thoughts seem much more innocent, and it was said that he stayed a virgin forever. He also sacrificed his finger so he could have a career with reading and writing when he wasn’t sure if he wanted to join the army. Though sex is brought up many more times in the book, one part that was less noticeable stuck out to me: Owen’s supposed virgin birth. The fact that so many people in the book are sexual is a stark contrast to Owen’s parents who claim they were not. Everyone else in the book goes out, goes to church, and goes about their daily business, yet Owen’s mother always stays in, and his father is often very busy in the confines of their quarry. There are vast differences between his family, and every other town citizen, which makes it possible that Owen was indeed a virgin birth.