A Prayer for Owen Meany

by: John Irving

Chapter 6: The Voice

Summary Chapter 6: The Voice


After Lydia's death, John's grandmother decides to acquire a television for 80 Front Street, though for years she had steadfastly resisted owning one. She allows John and Owen to watch whatever programs they wish, except the Late Show--Mrs. Wheelwright believes that they should have a reasonable bedtime. Mrs. Wheelwright watches the television constantly, and keeps up a running, scathing commentary on the banality of every show--so much so that when John and Owen watch without her, they find the TV boring. Thus 1954 begins around the television set; Owen and Mrs. Wheelwright, for all their differences, are united in their love for Liberace, whose show broadcasts ten times a week. In Mrs. Wheelwright's case, Liberace is the only performer she can tolerate.

John finds this love of Liberace so baffling that he complains to Dan, who tells him not to be so snobbish--Mrs. Wheelwright is getting old, and if she happens to like Liberace, so be it. When John complains about Owen, Dan tells him to be patient: when Owen is old enough to enter Gravesend Academy, he says, the academic challenges he will confront will discipline his mind. When the time comes to attend the academy, Mrs. Wheelwright agrees to buy Owen's clothes and he receives a full scholarship; but when John, a poor student, is asked to spend a year in public high school before coming to the academy, Owen decides to spend a year at public school with him, so that they will remain in the same grade.

Around Thanksgiving of 1954, Noah is attending the academy, and Hester comes to Gravesend to visit; she watches television for the first time, and is just as critical as Owen and Mrs. Wheelwright. Owen watches a movie about a nun, and gets what he calls "THE SHIVERS"--he despises Catholicism so deeply that nuns frighten him. He and John throw chestnuts at a statue of Mary Magdalene, and they are chased away by nuns, whom Owen calls "PENGUINS." By 1957, the boys are almost ready to enter the academy; they spend many nights watching Gravesend Players productions, trying to remember exactly who in the audience was at the baseball game where John's mother was killed. In the meantime, Owen gives John this advice about searching for his father: "EVERY TIME YOU GET A BONER, TRY TO THINK IF YOU REMIND YOURSELF OF ANYONE YOU KNOW."

On the subject of lust, John writes that he regretted not seeing more of Hester during those years; now that Simon and Noah are both at the academy, he had hoped for more frequent visits. Owen reminds John that Hester is his cousin, and says that it is probably best that she is beyond his reach.

Writing in 1987, John comments that Liberace, who was so beloved by Owen and Mrs. Wheelwright, has died; and he notes that it is Palm Sunday. He recalls that Owen hated Palm Sunday, and discusses how it is celebrated at the Bishop Strachan School, where he is a teacher. Writing later, on Easter, he describes the service at Grace Church, and thinks about Owen's responses to Easter.

John returns to his narrative. In the summer of 1958, he and Owen get their driver's licenses--Owen a month before John. They drive to nearby beaches and look at girls, and John realizes that in a strange way, Owen is attractive to women. He is always in command of a situation, and despite his diminutive stature, he has a developed musculature from working in his father's granite yards. He begins to smoke Camels, and the boys discuss the breasts of the girls in their grade.

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