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John Irvings A Prayer For Owen Meany English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2738 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is a quest for faith and doubt through the love of a persistent friendship. First published in 1989, John retells his life growing up in New Hampshire. He jumps back and forth to different events of his childhood. John’s attention is taken up by his mother’s death and his mother’s failure to disclose his father’s identity. While living in New Hampshire, his childhood friend, Owen Meany was quite unusual compared to an average eleven-year older. “It was as if Owen Meany had been born without realistic joints” (Irving 2). At the beginning of the novel, it is obvious that Owen is special. “What faith I have I owe to Owen Meany, a boy I grew up with. It is Owen who made me a believer” (Irving 2). Despite of Owen’s monstrous appearance, intellectual gifts and an air of authority that enables him to convey a message: “God has taken your mother. My hands were the instrument. God has taken my hands. I am God’s instrument.” (Irving 87). Their friendship is based on Owen’s extraordinary presence and sealed by the freak accident of John’s mother. Irving’s symbolism inquires a mindset implicating a personal view on the significance of Owen’s life being similar to Christ himself. Young Owen inspires his best friend, John Wheelwright, into his own faith within Christ. “He is the reason I believe in god; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany” (Irving 1). As john retells his childhood, adulthood and life after Owen’s death, John becomes skeptical of Owen Meany’s unquestionable belief in the purpose of all things such as the dressmaker’s dummy and the angel. He believes he saw an angel after Tabitha’s death and since he interrupted it, the task was reassured to him. “He’d talked to Dan and me out of the dressmaker’s dummy; he stationed my mother’s heartbreaking figure at his bedside- to stand watch over him to be his angel” (Irving 201). When before, Owen had accidentally killed John’s mom with a baseball, he believes he is an instrument of God and that it is a reason why God chose him. Now Owen begins foretelling his life through dreams that are prophecies of his own future, he feels destined to change John’s life Owen spends his life developing God’s instrument and figuring out how to end his life. At one point, Owen had to see a see a psychiatrist and John said “Would have heard a little of God’s Instrument theme; even Dr. Dolder would have uncovered Owen’s perplexing and troubling anti-Catholicism…” (Irving 383). It is not until after Owen’s death that John realizes the impact Owen had on his life because John learns he was a miraculous birth. John Irving’s heartbreaking novel stresses the importance of religious faith versus doubt that leaves the reader believing in the existence of God.

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In the critical article, Bryan Aubrey discusses Owen Meany as a Christ-figure and shows how Irving connects this to a larger network of symbolism to buttress his critique of American politics and society. Aubrey defends the novel, stating that Christ-figures in modern literature is often a more problematic enterprise, whereas, Irving uses the more esoteric aspects of the Christ symbol to add depth to his portrayal of the significance of Owen’s life. He supports his assertions by discussing the importance of Owen Meany. He declares that Owen is special because the narrator john, comments on Owen’s voice believing that “It was a voice not entirely of this world.” Than John seeing Owen framed by a shaft of sunlight in the attic as they are playing, his appearance is so striking that “He looked like a descending angel- a tiny but fiery god, sent to adjudicate the errors of our ways.” From then on, Irving gives broad hints that Owen is neither alien nor angel but a Christ-figure. Readers are meant to make the connection and not to doubt or questioned it. Irving wants readers to believe that Owen is following in Christ’s footsteps in a way that is more than human.

I agree with the assertions made in Bryan Aubrey critical article on A Prayer for Owen Meany. In my opinion, when looking at this story it is like Irving made this twisted story into something that is not meant to be humorous but is while implying the importance of one’s faith. John Wheelwright connects to society today because it is numerous of people who feel as if their dreams will never be destined to their standards. Those people in society either commit suicide or simply do not have hope. While on the other hand its people like Owen Meany who condole in events that shows lack of Christianity but is still able to know it is a way to repent for his sins. When evaluating the novel, the key symbols are simply faith and doubt. In just as Owen, faith is the key factor to life, just as he felt that it was God’s will that encouraged everything that happened. I believe that we are suppose to follow God’s will that is notified as the “Ten Commandments” to us rather than to live life by our own rules. Those “Ten Commandments” refer to what Irving meant by “God’s Will” or Aubrey meaning of something that “Embodies both the male and female aspects of Life.”


John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is a brilliantly written novel full of spiritual issues and the importance of faith. Irving tells his story through the voice of his utterly and furiously angry character, John Wheelwright. Conveying the story through the eyes of Owen Meany’s best friend emphasizes the impact Owen has on society. Through each sentence, the reader can observe how Owen’s faith becomes his destiny. As the story unfolds, john discovers that “Owen’s perplexing and troubling anti-Catholicism …” (Irving 383) becomes known as the “Christ Child” (Irving 165) himself.

Irving’s use of symbols gives the reader a view of peace being a sign in John’s life. This sign of peace is developed four times throughout the novel by Owen since “There was the necessary consideration of the symbols involved” (Irving 402). “He had removed Mary Magdalene’s arms” (Irving 402) and it has a connection to the other objects. “Owen suffered an obsession with armlessness-this was Watahantowet’s familiar totem, this is what Owen had done to my armadillo. My mother’s dressmaker’s dummy was armless as well” (Irving 403). These examples clarify the message Owen has convey: “God has taken your mother. My hands were the instrument. God has taken my hands. I am God’s instrument” (Irving 87) which also express amputation indicating that God’s will encourage him, not his individual will.

As Irving distributes peace in John’s life through multiple symbolisms it is also Irving’s duty to ensure readers the connection between Owen and God. According to, a critical essay by, Bryan Aubrey it is also known that there is a significance to light. Considering the fact that Owen was so small and everybody liked to touch him it signified when everyone wanted to touch God in the Gospel of Luke for healing purposes. Another similarity is that they both had to sacrifice their life for others. Just as God is considered the “Light of the world” in the Gospel of Luke, John has made Owen out to be a “Descending angel” while once playing in the attic. With the realization, John Irving illustrates for the readers, it gives a key factor dueling on the importance of faith and the role of supporting one’s beliefs. In order for people to be directed into the right direct they have to be comprehensive to the signs or people God place in our life.

John Irving writes this novel with a twisted humor and familiar database (bible) style. Throughout this seeking for faith quest, the tone becomes obvious as peace is being found. John goes from his failure of believing to the “righteousness in the cause of peace” (Irving 510).


A Prayer for Owen Meany has multiple themes, but, throughout the work, John Irving continuously emphasizes faith and doubt. The religious faith versus doubt that is elaborated throughout the novel is what leaves the reader believing in the existence of God. The readers first see this with the character, John Wheelwright. Though John is extremely focused on his mother’s premature death and failure to disclose his father’s identity, he develops an utterly and furiously anger. Young John holds a belief implying “I make no claims to have a life with Christ” (Irving 1). Again, this theme is exemplified when Owen believes he is God’s instrument. Although Owen is verified as the “Christ Child” (Irving 165) it seems to have possessed him at a young age. “Owen felt that God had assigned him a role that he was powerless to change; Owen’s sense of his own destiny” (Irving 420).

Irving’s major theme of faith and doubt leads the reader into the prospective of doubt one minute, faith the next or simply faith one minute and doubt the next which makes Pastor Merrill the main figure in the theme religious faith which became a necessity of doubt. It was transpired that he was the father of John and that he lost his faith in what he preaches. His doubt caused him to have nothing but was restored by his “miracle”. In reality it was a tricked played on him by John, who clothes the dressmaker’s dummy to resemble his mother. John practically fools the pastor into believing it is a vision of Tabitha but the Pastor “miracle” is assumed to be false but his faith is back into his sermons. Dueling on this event indicates the importance of John finding his biological father because at one point John could not take time to believe. Owen was there to reassure him that God knows whom his father is and will eventually reveal him. So john began to believe regardless of what happen. He began to search without any information from his mother and makes an accomplishment. He no longer regrets his birth although he didn’t find out to his twenties but he took his own existence into religious faith in the same consideration as Owen Meany that he once despised. Irving shows how something that cannot be accurately explained can be necessary to flourish one’s faith.


John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is perhaps one of the utmost spirited and heartbroken stories of all time. A Prayer for Owen Meany raises an issue that may be considered more relevant to all in a period of time. Irving’s aspect of Christ gives his portrayal of the significance of Owen’s life and his impact on others. “I’ve always asked myself what would be the magnitude of the miracle that could convince me of religious faith” (Irving 213). When Owen is first presented, his religious faith and miracles is shown completely with him ordained as an instrument of God. He first jumps to this conclusion because he was the instrument used to kill John’s mother in the freak accident. Through his unquestionable belief, Owen stays confidential to his fate and never doubts what he believes in whereas people today suffers and wants to give up on faith and/or life. A Prayer for Owen Meany teaches these people the importance of faiths ability of being restored and the fact of everything happening for a reason. Irving shows a thin line between Doubt one minute, Faith the next and never restoring faith or believing in miracles. Irving’s social justice and love in a persistent friendship illustrates the keenness of Owen that encouraged him to sacrifice it all and to be open-minded in order to find the answers. It takes years of determination and divinity, but Owen became an illustration of a Christ-figure at a young age and has the ability to succeed. This sends a message to people today implicating ethical standards. No matter what may be a minor setback in life, it is always significant to always have faith and to stay firm in one’s beliefs. John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany gives a voice dignifying hope as the last resort. I believe his intention in writing this book was not merely to entertain John’s mother premature death, but the allegory of how John was shaped into the man he became. That is why this excellent novel has been able to inspire the readers into religious faith rather than discouraging one’s true beliefs and ability to be prophesized through dreams or words connected to God. Irving teaches not only the importance of following ones beliefs and miracles but also the significance of being true to one’s self and others at times. It is only by remaining truly pure at heart and true to our own religious principles, that becoming true to ourselves, can help one not to give up, to erase the unease by repenting, ensuring a new beginning.


“Faith vs. Doubt”

By Fawzia Zie

Doubt sees the obstacles.

Faith sees the way.

Doubt sees the darkest night.

Faith sees the day.

Doubt dreads to take a step.

Faith soars on high.

Doubt questions ‘ who believes ‘?

Faith answers

Fawzia Zie’s “Faith vs. Doubt” portrays the difference between the strength of one who has faith to the weakness of one who doubts. Words like “obstacles” differs from “way” or “darkest night” differs from “day” (lines 1-4) emphasizes doubt being the downfall to one’s self. The use of diction creates a tone shifting from hurt and distress to finding ones true self. The entire poem is composed of multiple sentences, which shows that a person can go in either direction depending on their mind setting to be one who “takes a step” or “soars on high” (lines 5-6). The person known as “faith” is the one who finds his way while the person known as “doubt” is held back wondering why?

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In A Prayer for Owen Meany, Owen showed faith being symbolized as the “Chosen One” (Irving 160). Owen does not understand why he has been chosen. His best friend, John Wheelwright, shows doubt in Owen’s belief: “God would tell me who my father was, Owen Meany had assured me; but, so far, god had been silent” (Irving 201) Owen is destined to change John’s life and to develop God’s instrument “Owen Meany began his lengthy contribution to my belief in God” (Irving 10) because of their remarkable friendship and religious fate. He chooses to search for the right answers and pace everything together to solve what John believe is unbelievable. Owen becomes viewed as the “Christ child [himself]” (Irving 165). In the end, it is only then when Owen’s faith helps John to find true happiness in his life and his doubt doesn’t leave him questionable of who to believe.

Fawzia Zie and John Irving indicates how it takes faith to sacrifice everything in order to avoid “the obstacles” (line 1) and to find the “answers” (line 7). Zie knows doubt is the torment of not being able to “take a [an extra] step” (line 5) and order to be who you chose to be. Fawzia Zie’s poem shows faith as the devotion Owen had in everything even without logical proof. Once a person is capable of believing everything is possible and putting faith within God, he will lead the way, unyielding any obstacles in their way. Irving’s connection to Zie is “Owen Meany had sacrifice much more” (Irving 459) because he put everything in god hands and was capable of ignoring others opinions. Faith always finds its way, however, as it is miraculous to withhold. Together, they had a prospective on faith that leads other into understanding the importance of its ability to guide.


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