A Prayer for Owen Meany
Why might Irving have had John choose Thomas Hardy as the subject of his Master's thesis?
What importance do names have in A Prayer for Owen Meany? Are names such as "Gravesend" and "Meany" significant, and if so, how? What other significant names can you think of?
"John claims that the effect Owen Meany has had on his life is to give him religious faith, but in reality, Owen has left John a broken and ruined man. Owen killed John's mother, drastically injuring his childhood, and then died himself, leaving John permanently "damaged," as John himself admits. What John passes as a positive religious faith is in reality simply a not-terribly- effective form of comfort, as John is unable to overcome the traumatic events of his past." Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Defend your answer with examples from the novel.
What do you think of John as a narrator? Is he reliable or unreliable? What is his motivation for writing his story?
How does Irving use symbolism in the novel? Taking one of the book's important symbols (armlessness, doubles, American history, Owen himself, etc.), describe Irving's development of a symbolic theme, and discuss the specific meanings with which your symbol is invested in the story.
How does Owen develop as a character throughout the novel? Does he seem to change at all between his early childhood and the day of his death? How do major occurrences in the book--particularly the death of John's mother--seem to affect him?
It is possible to construct a reading of Owen Meany in which the plot of the novel represents the period of American history in which it is set: the death of Owen, and John's resultant loss, can be read as the national loss of innocence experienced in the late '60s as a result of the Vietnam War, for instance. Other elements of the book could also contribute to such a reading: John's mother is killed by a game of baseball, an important symbol of America; when Marilyn Monroe dies, Owen says that she was just like America. How else does the book thematize the idea of America? Do you think the plot of the novel intentionally dramatizes American history, or is the give-and-take between history and story more complex than that?
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