A Prayer for Owen Meany (307-617) by John Irving
Option #2 – Setting Analysis
In the latter half of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Owen gets expelled from Gravesend Academy for helping students make fake draft cards to serve as IDs (so that they could buy alcohol); however, Owen graduates from the local public high school, and he and John both decide to go to the University of New Hampshire while Owen develops his relationship with John’s cousin Hester. Though Hester and John disapprove of the military ROTC program Owen volunteered for, it is the only way he can afford going to the University of New Hampshire, and he hopes he will one day get to go to Vietnam to fulfill his destiny. Instead of going directly to a combat position, Owen is assigned to a position in Arizona in which he escorts the bodies of dead soldiers back to their families. One day, Owen invites John to come to Arizona and relax. At the airport on the day of John’s return flight—also the day Owen claims to be destined to die—Owen and John notice nuns escorting several Vietnamese orphans through the airport, and Owen offers to help the boys find the bathroom. Suddenly, a grenade is thrown into the bathroom and John catches it as Owen jumps up; the maneuver starkly resembles “The Shot” as Owen shields the children from the grenade, but his arms are blown off and he bleeds to death. Back in Gravesend, Owen’s ghost possesses Rev. Merrill which causes him to admit that he is John’s father, and Mr. Meany later claims that Owen was a virgin birth (like Jesus Christ).
John Wheelwright’s development through A Prayer for Owen Meany is majorly impacted by Owen Meany. At Owen’s funeral, while attempting to speak to Mary Beth Baird about Owen, John cannot think of what to say: “I had lost my voice. It occurs to me now that it wasn’t my voice that I wanted to hear. If I couldn’t hear Owen’s voice, I didn’t want to hear anyone’s” (Irving 569-70). The fact that John is completely overwhelmed by the loss of a true friend with whom he had a special connection shows that Owen was a large influence to John. Owen was constantly so kind, understanding, and selfless. Owen repeats ninth grade just so he could stay with John. John’s dyslexia made it hard for him to read and do well in school in general, but Owen helps John come up with solutions to aid his reading comprehension. Because John is not as smart as Owen, Owen decides to decline the opportunity to go to Harvard and Yale (where he would have gotten large amounts of scholarship money) in order to stay with John at the state college. Due to Owen’s frequent encouraging of John, John becomes more intelligent, more motivated, and more dedicated to learning overall. In fact, Owen is likely the reason John ends up as a teacher in Toronto. Additionally, Owen helps John evade the draft by cutting John’s finger off. While it may seem disturbing, Owen cutting off John’s finger shows that he wants the best for his best friend—he cannot risk having his best friend killed before he dies, similar to how parents never wish for their child to die before themselves. Besides Owen’s positive traits strongly affecting John, Owen’s death makes John reconsider life. In terms of belief in God in his earlier years, John is very similar to Rev. Merrill’s: constantly full of doubt. However, after witnessing the miracle of Owen Meany, John becomes deeply religious and
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