Owen Meany, the only child of a New Hampshire granite quarrier, believes he is God''s instrument; he is. This is John Irving''s most comic novel, yet Owen Meany is Mr. Irving''s most heartbreaking character.
John Irving published his first novel at the age of twenty-six. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation; he has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Academy Award. Mr. Irving lives with his family in Toronto and Vermont.
1. Though he''s portrayed as an instrument of God, Owen Meany
causes the death of John''s mother. What other deaths was Owen
indirectly involved with? Do you find Owen''s close relationship
with death to support or undermine his miraculous purpose?
2. Owen speaks and writes in capital letters, emphasizing the
potency of his strange voice. At the academy, he is even referred
to as the Voice. Why is Owen''s voice so important? What other
occasions can you think of in which Owen''s voice played an
especially meaningful role?
3. Reverend Merrill always speaks of faith in tandem with doubt.
Do you believe that one can exist without the other or that one
strengthens the other? Was your opinion about Merrill''s views on
faith and doubt affected by the revelation of his relationship to
4. Merrill experiences a bogus miracle and resurgence of faith
when John stages his mother''s dressmaker dummy outside the church.
Later, John''s involvement in Owen''s rescue of the Vietnamese
children spurs John''s own faith: "I am a Christian because of Owen
Meany," he says. Do you think the genuineness of Owen''s miracle
makes the birth of John''s faith more valid than the faith
engendered by Merrill''s bogus miracle?
5. The Meanys claim that, like Jesus, Owen was the product of a
virgin birth. Owen dislikes the Catholic Church for turning away
his parents, but Owen himself makes the Meanys leave the Christmas
Pageant. Name other instances when Owen''s feelings toward his
family seem conflicted. Do you think Owen ever considers himself
6. An observer necessary to the Christmas Pageant but seldom an
active participant, John plays Joseph to Owen''s baby Jesus. John
refers to himself on other occasions as "just a Joseph." Do you see
John''s role as Joseph-like throughout the story? Are there other
biblical characters with whom you identify John?
7. Did Irving''s references to the armless Indian and the
pawless armadillo prepare you for Owen''s sacrifice? What other
clues did Irving give about Owen''s final heroic scene?
8. Throughout the novel, John gives hints to the forthcoming
action, adding, "As you shall see." Did you find this to be an
effective way to keep you reading and engaged in the story?
9. Owen Meany taught John that "Any good book is always in
motion -- from the general to the specific, from the particular to
the whole and back again." Do you think Irving followed his own
recipe for a good book? Supply examples in support of your
10. Given John''s dislike of Gravesend Academy, which expelled
Owen, did you find it interesting that John later taught at an
academy in Toronto? In what other ways does John, as an adult,
embrace issues or events that he was indifferent or hostile to as
11. John assists Owen in rescuing the children, but John always
plays the supporting part in Owen''s adventures. Based on the
scenes in Toronto in the 1980s, do you think John ever escaped his
supporting role? How do you think John''s retained virginity
reflects on his sense of self?
12. Did your feelings about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam
change after reading Irving''s portrayal of the peace movement, the
draft dodgers, and Owen''s involvement in the army? Were you
surprised by Owen''s efforts to get to Vietnam?
13. John''s reactions to and obsession with the Iran-Contra
affair of the 1980s reflect his position as neither a true Canadian
nor a true American. Do you think that non-Americans have a clearer
vision of the machinations and deceptions within American politics?
What did John''s focus on American politics tell you about his
14. Irving frequently foreshadows tragedy; for example,
hailstones hit John''s mother on the head during her wedding day,
providing a glimpse of her later death by a baseball. What other
events does Irving foreshadow?
15. Several reviews call A Prayer for Owen
Meany "Dickensian," and Irving himself incorporates scenes
from Dickens in the story. In what ways does Irving''s writing
remind you of Dickens''s? What other writers would you compare