Essay: A prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published on: January 21, 2020
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  • Number of pages: 2
  • A prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
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A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, is a novel centered around Owen’s connection to God, and how Owen’s firm faith has led him to see God’s overarching plan and to become an instrument of this higher power. Throughout the novel, Irving uses small and seemingly unimportant details that eventually come together and are revealed to be instrumental in fulfilling Owen and John’s fate. It is through these details that Irving illustrates the presence of God and his overarching plan, showing that everything that happens in the story has an intentional and critical purpose. Irving not only suggests the existence of a higher plan, but also emphasizes the importance of pure faith in being able to see God’s plan and his presence. He mocks characters in the story, like Mr. Merrill, who cannot “believe without seeing,” and need tangible proof to affirm their belief in God. Irving suggests that God has a plan for everyone, but it takes true faith and relinquishment of any doubt to see this.
Irving uses many small details throughout the novel that are later revealed to be intentional to illustrate this dynamic of a greater plan acting on everyone’s life. Owen believes he is an instrument in conducting God’s plan, and he facilitates some of these small, yet important details. Not only has Owen explicitly said “GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD’S INSTRUMENT,”(87) but Irving has also used metaphors to illustrate some of the facets of Owen. Irving compares him to a diamond wheel, where both the wheel and Owen have an “unchanging voice” and they “make no mistakes, or only the user’s mistakes,”(483) referring to Owen role as a tool of God. The diamond wheel is also a significant detail in that Owen used it to cut off John’s finger in hopes that he did not have to go to Vietnam because of the injury, therefore not having to put himself in danger when Owen dies. Staying consistent with the description that both the wheel and Owen do not make mistakes, this actually ensured that John would be with Owen during his death since Owen wouldn’t end up meeting his fate in Vietnam. Owen has known his exact death and time, where he dies saving Vietnamese children, for years. It’s because of this that some of the details in Owen’s actions are revealed at the end of the book to be so deliberate. John and Owen have practiced what they call “The Shot” for years, where John launches Owen up to dunk a basketball. This at first seems unimportant, but ends up being crucial in fulfilling God’s plan for Owen’s death. When the day came, and Dick threw the grenade at the group of children, Owen and John used the launching technique they had practiced for years to throw Owen up to the window to keep the grenade out of harm’s way. Every detail of the shot resurfaced at this climax, where the window was said to be “at least ten feet high,”(611) the exact height of a basketball hoop, and John said “I figured we had about two seconds left”(613) when their goal for years had been to do it under three seconds. Even the purpose of Owen’s voice was revealed, where “it was [Owen’s] voice that compelled the children to listen to him,”(612) allowing the children to calm down and stay away. Irving uses these hyper-specific details in the novel that reappear with an obvious purpose to replicate the feeling of deliberacy for every single action, therefore suggesting that there is a universal plan enacted by God.
In the novel, not many characters are devout and true Christians, and the novel mocks their hesitation in faith. Irving shows their ignorance in comparison to Owen, who is only able to see God’s presence because of his confidence in faith.

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