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A Prayer For Owen Meany | Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1920 words Published: 8th May 2017

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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 Wheelwright 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 child. “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 Johnny’s mother. Irving’s diction and symbolism inquires a mindset implicating a personal view on Owen through the capitalization in his words. Young Owen inspires his best friend, Johnny wheelwright, into his own belief 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 reassigned to him. “He’d talked 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 believed 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 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.

Scholarly Article

In the critical article by Bryan Aubrey


John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is a brilliantly written novel full of spiritual issues, importance of faith and social justice. Irving tells his story through the voice of his utterly and furiously angry character, John wheelwright. Conveying the story through one of the main characters,


A Prayer for Owen Meany has multiple themes, but, throughout the work, John Irving continuously emphasizes faith and doubt. The theme of religious faith versus doubt is prominent throughout the novel. The readers first see this with the character, John Wheelwright. Though John is extremely focused on his mother 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 never doubts that there’s a purpose for all things and his faith is his own destiny.

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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, doubt the next” which makes Pastor Merrill a key figure in the theme of religious faith. Pastor Merrill religious faith is founded on the necessity of doubt. It is later transpired that Merrill is the father of John and he has completely lost his faith. Before John realizes Merrill is his father, its obvious Merrill no longer has faith in the religious truths he preaches. His doubt chewed him up and left him with nothing but then restored by what he refers to as a “miracle”. In reality, it was a trick played on him by John, who clothes the dressmaker’s dummy so it resembles his mother and fools the pastor into believing it’s a vision of Tabitha. This fake miracle is what restored Merrill’s faith back into preaching. Dueling on this event indicates the importance of John finding out who his father is because at one point John couldn’t take time to believe. Owen was the one to assure him that God knows who John’s father is and will eventually identify him. So John began to believe regardless of what my happen. He began to search without any information from his mother and he succeeded. He didn’t regret his birth although he didn’t find out to his late 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 rationally explained is necessary for religious faith to flourish.


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 from on 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 oneself. 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 doesn’t 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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