Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Prayer For Owen Meany

Part I

It is arguably enough to say that Owen Meany, of A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving, is spiritually a gift of God as he identifies imself being "God's instrument" as well. This chapter, 'The Finger', is the primary example of the many things Owen Meany gives to John Wheelwright.
After years of friendship, the two boys have come into the time of the Vietnam War. Being fated to his death, Owen believes he must go to Vietnam. "I know that I am God's instrument. I know when I'm going to die. I'm going to be a hero! I trust that God will help me because what I'm supposed to do looks very hard" (416).
This fate leads Owen to join the army insistently, though his best friend, John, and girlfriend, Hester, object. "You've got to learn to follow things through-if you care about something, you've got to see it all the way to the end, you've got to try to finish it" (479).
John, unsure of his plans and himself, narrates the novel through memories ad present-day journal entries mostly discussing and bashing President Raegen and American politics, though he lives in Canada. Through his contempt, the reader sees that enlisting in the army is never an option, though he does not have many foolproof plans to escape the draft. Helpless to this injustice as Owen is helpless to his fate and the injustices of God, amputation comes as an important symbol of the novel. Because of this, Owen Meany amputates John's index finger. "Just think of this as my little gift to you" (509).
Using the idea of amputation, Irving builds the climax of this chapter by identifying many things along the book through amputations.
In the chapter, John tells the story of the Mary Magdelene statue and Owen's determination to replace it after the amputations caused towards the church's statue. "It turns out it's impossible to restore Mary Magdelene exactly as she was" (444). Mary Magdelene, as a statue is also helpless to the injustices of god that Irving portrays in his climax at the end of the book.

Part II

Being the most prominent theme of the novel, John Irving ties faith and doubt together in his last chapter, 'The Shot'. A "shot" gives the connotation of a chance and everything Owen Meany is a chance, including his birth, that of Jesus Christ. It is only appropriate that his life be filled with doubt, yet also hope. His unusual voice and small features lead to making a basketball shot seem impossible but because of Owen's fate, he believes he can make it. Thus, the two boys, John and Owen practice making the shot in the least amount of time.
Owen is also a symbol of the relationship of world and spirit. He works in a granite business, earthly in his nature, but also angelic in his heigh and features, including the glow of his skin. "He was the color of a gravestone; light was both absorbed and reflected by his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appeared translucent at times"(3). To add to the idea of Owen as a gift, as "God's instrument", there is also Owen's fated dream, his supposed birth, and precognitive powers.
Because Owen knew his fate, because he was comfortable with the idea of his death, he had faith in his actions and those of others. "Teach me to live, that I may dread the grave as little as my bed. Teach me to die" (520).
It is the doubt surrounding Owen that sets the stage for Irving's final chapter. Irving reveals John Wheelwrite's father as Pastor Merril, who knew of Owen's dream and fate as well. Irving uses Merril as a symbol of doubt throughout the entire book, through his stuttering sermons and refusal to believe in Owen as a miracle.
"It's easier for you to j-j-just accept it. Belief is not something you have felt, and then not felt; you haven't l-l-lived with believe and unbelief" (524).
Owen's shot, his fate, is the chance miracle of Irving's entire novel, climaxed at the end.

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