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Owen Meany Essay, Research Paper
Will You See the Twentieth Century Christ?
[Owen Meany] is the reason I believe in God: I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. John Irving begins his mysterious novel, A Prayer For Owen Meany, by foreshadowing the entire book within his first paragraph. John Irving uses many literary devices, such as foreshadowing, to create a novel that is intricate in design, and complex in meaning. Johnny Wheelwright, the narrator of the novel, is writing a memoir (the novel itself) about his friend, teacher, mentor, and spiritual guide, Owen Meany. By using stream of consciousness and flashbacks, John Irving allows Johnny Wheelwright to logically glide from one childhood event to another. In the novel, Owen Meany is a Christ figure that instills upon his best friend, Johnny Wheelwright, the gift of life, friendship, and faith. Modern crtitics suggest A Prayer For Owen Meany is an autobiographical work. These critics say that John Irving s strong faith in God is the driving force behind Johnny s relationship with both Owen and God. The novel s autobiographical nature is enhanced by the setting of the novel and the physical attributes given to Johnny Wheelwright. In the book, Johnny grows up in a small New Hampshire community. Through his family s wealth and influence, he is able to attend a prestigious boys preparatory school. While at the Academy, Johnny has trouble in his studies because he is dyslexic. There, he learned a new way to read and write, and when he enrolled at the University of New Hampshire, he excelled in his studies.
John Irving s early years were strikingly similar to this. John Irving grew up in a small New Hampshire town, where his family s wealth and influence allowed him to go to a prestigious boys preparatory school, also. While in the eleventh grade, he discovered that he was dyslexic (though this had no name in the 1950 s). When he enrolled at the University of New Hampshire, John Irving surpassed all expectations and soon wrote his first successful novel, The World According To Garp. His first novel set the precedent for his other writings, allowing him to follow the traditions of Charles Dickens, a writer accredited for his use of symbolism and multi-sensory excerpts. John Irving s writing culminated into a novel that proves there are Christ-like people in today s society.
Because Owen had been selected as a Christ figure, the reader is able to gain a fresh perspective of the Bible, and how Owen fulfills the representation of Jesus. From the beginning of his life, Own had been a miracle of God. Like the baby Jesus, Owen had been born of a virgin. His virgin birth, however, had not been accepted by the Catholic Church, and his family resented that. As Jesus grew up, he had to receive certain values before he could use them. Jesus first gift was the ability to have great compassion. Owen Meany s compassion for other living creatures surpasses the average person s level of compassion. When Sagamore, the Wheelwright s neighbor s dog was killed by a diaper truck, Owen was the person who had the idea to have a funeral. The reason for this funeral was not only his own closure, but more importantly, so that Sagamore s owner, Mr. Fish, would have an opportunity to mourn the loss of his companion. The compassion he shows at Johnny s mother s funeral is different, however. The night of her funeral, Owen visits the grave and reads The Book of Common Prayer. The next morning, Owen arrives at Johnny s house and leaves his greatest treasure: his box of baseball cards. By doing this, Owen shares with Johnny how much of his life he had lost. When Jesus had mastered his ability to show great compassion to others, God gave him the ability to teach others. Owen had also been able to teach others, even at a young age. One of Owen s greatest accomplishments while at the Gravesend Academy was THE VOICE. This newspaper editorial not only caught the attention of the students, but it also taught the students, the faculty, and the alumni about life. This column written by Owen Meany is the equivalent of one of Jesus parables in the Bible. Its bold print may even suggest an attempt to relate Owen s words with the words of Christ in Jesus -Words-In-Red bibles that are prevalent in today s society. Not only did Owen help relations within the school setting, but he also opened new doors with his relationship with Johnny. Owen Meany gave Johnny Wheelwright the ability to read. Because of Johnny s undiagnosed dyslexia, he had been unable to correctly understand his studies. Once Owen gave Johnny the tools to learn, Johnny excelled at his studies and graduated English major cum laude.
Jesus could only impress people with his knowledge and expertise of the Bible, had he not been able to give faith to the weak. Owen, in the same manner, would only be a four foot genius with a weird voice, had it not been for his strong faith in God. The faith that Owen carried in his heart was a light that shone throughout many dark times. Owen not only had faith in God, but he also had faith that God would help him. Through Owen s teaching of faith to Johnny, Johnny is able to carry on Owen s message even after he is dead. Jesus, in the same way, also had people to carry on His message even after He died.
Many times throughout the Bible, Jesus saved people from dying, or brought them back to life. Owen Meany, working as GOD S INSTRUMENT, also saves people. When Johnny is drafted in Vietnam, Owen gives him the ability to stay out of the war. By cutting off Johnny s index finger, Owen saves his best friend s life. Through Owen s dreams, he realizes that for his destiny to occur, Johnny must be alive to help him. If Johnny dies in the war, Owen s fate may not occur as it is supposed to. Johnny s confidence in Owen is tested to the extreme, but Owen reminds him that he loves him very much, and would never let anything happen to him that Johnny did not want to happen.
At the Last Supper, Jesus was telling the twelve disciples that someone would betray Him. Not believing Him, they asked whom it would be. Jesus told them that it is whoever had their hand in the breadbasket. The men looked at each other realizing that they all had their hands in the basket. They were all guilty for letting Christ die. Owen Meany s comment to his friends is reminiscent to this famous story. While swimming, Owen takes off his safety belt and hides from the other boys. When they noticed that he was no longer there, they were shocked and did not go looking for him. When he saw that they did not help him, he screamed at them YOU LET ME DROWN YOU DIDN T DO ANYTHING! YOU JUST WATCHED ME DROWN! I M ALREADY DEAD REMEMBER THAT: YOU LET ME DIE. By Owen making the relation between Christ and himself, Owen must have realized how much of a Christ figure he was.
On the third day after the crucifixion, Jesus rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father. After the grenade exploded in Owen s arms, he knew that he had little time to live. He was carried by a nun and placed on the ground where he died. As he was dying, Owen noticed that he was rising up to the heavens. YOU RE GETTING SMALLER, BUT I CAN STILL SEE YOU! Though this was Owen s last worldly act, he continues to visit Johnny, just as Jesus has done for the past two thousand years.
Even though Owen Meany is a great Christ figure, he has certain flaws that create a manner surrounding him, thus making him seem less Christ-like. These unattractive attributes allow the reader to relate with Owen. Had John Irving not given Owen a non-Christian side, the reader would not have been able to relate with him, and his character would be flat and undynamic. John Irving heightens the question of Owen as GOD S INSTRUMENT when he allows Owen to do negative things like destroying the Mary Magdalene statue. His negative actions also allow the reader to have a laugh before Irving begins his deep theme again.
Owen s devil figure is only perceived as negative. Everything that Owen does has a purpose that is revealed. The desecration of the Mary Magdalene statue allows for the student body and administration to see the weakness of Mr. White. The armlessness of the figure represents how little control Mr. White had over his students. The headless Mary Magdalene also signifies that Mr. White has no voice over the student body. The head and arms of the statue was also a significant part of Johnny s quest to find his real father. By putting the head and arms on the dressmaker s dummy, Mr. Merrill thought he actually saw Tabitha Wheelwright s ghost.
Owen Meany s negative side also extends to his uncanny ability to end life. He is the direct instrument of the deaths of two spirits. Johnny s mother was killed by the ball Owen hit. Because death is perceived as a negative consequence to life, Owen is seen as a negative person. The need for death, however, allows other people to be reborn. Owen s relationship with the families he had disturbed actually grows after the deaths. Owen created a space in Johnny s life, which was filled with Owen s true love for him. Through what appears to be a negative character flaw, Owen creates the ability to bond with families and create truth in the world.
In the end, Owen Meany becomes Christ: he gives up his life for the sake of others, and he teaches Johnny the meaning of life and the concept of God. Owen s faith in all supreme things gives hope to the world and gives light to the dark times. Owen Meany was special. He was selected by God to carry the flame that Jesus had given to the world two thousand years ago. I AM NOT JESUS. I AM A CHRIST FIGURE.
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