A Prayer for Owen Meany

by: John Irving

Suggested Essay Topics

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?