A popular theme in literature concerns the concept of ‘growing up’, a painful process by which a character achieves maturity, self-knowledge and confidence. In the novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, the character of Owen Meany achieves this painful process. Owen Meany is introduced in the novel as a remarkable individual and throughout it can be observed how the brilliant child evolves into the memorable individual that he turns into. In the novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, Owen Meany matures, gains self-knowledge and confidence to become the miracle that his character was.
Owen Meany was obviously a brilliant child, but was still able to improve on his excellent character as he was growing. This can be seen through Owen’s maturity level. He was always remarkable advanced and mature for his age, but as he became older, he understood even more than before. His best friend was Johnny Wheelwright. In their friendship, Owen looked after Johnny.
He gave him advice and even helped him out academically.
When Johnny was bitter about his mother not revealing to him who his father was before she died, Owen came up with a mature response, “Of course, as Owen pointed out to me, I was only eleven when she died, and my mother was only thirty; she probably thought she had a lot of time left to tell me the story. She didn’t know she was going to die, as Owen Meany put it.” In the face of irrationality, Owen found it easy to point out the logic.
The easy way he comes up with intelligent responses to difficult questions are proof of this child’s brilliance. Later on his life, the reader sees that Owen has matured in regards to his perspective on Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had been somewhat of a hero in Owen’s mind and he had felt betrayed by him. He is able to later recover from this viewpoint and analyze the situation differently.
She’s just like our whole country – not quite young anymore. But not old either; a little breathless, very beautiful, maybe a little stupid, maybe a lot more smarter than she seemed. And she was looking for something – I think she wanted to be good. Look at the men in her life – Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, maybe the Kennedys. Look at how good they seem! Look at how desirable she was! … She was never quite happy … She was just like our whole country … Those famous powerful men – did they really love her? Did they take care of her? If she was ever with the Kennedys, they couldn’t have loved her – they were just using her …. People will do and say anything just to get the power; then they’ll use the power just to get a thrill …. The country is a sucker for powerful men who look good, we think they’re moralists and then they just use us. That’s what’s going to happen to you and me … we’re going to be used.”
Owen Meany is very good at analysis, and he uses these talents to make conclusions on many things. It is an excellent example of his maturity. When Owen first discovered that JFK might be having an affair with Marilyn Monroe, he was shocked. Now, he is able to rationalize it and see JFK in a different light. He is able to come up with educated ideas concerning JFK and Marilyn Monroe. His metaphor of Marilyn Monroe and the United States is an excellent one. Both Marilyn Monroe and America have a great deal in common because of their mutual exploitation by the rich and powerful.
Owen Meany learns a great deal about himself through the course of his life. He is convinced that there are reasons for all things. One of his strongest conviction stems from what his parents told him about him being born in the same way as Jesus. Due to this, Owen feels very convinced and assured of himself. He is a highly intelligent child:
I know three things. I know that my voice doesn’t change, and I know when I’m going to die. I wish I knew why my voice never changes, I wish I knew how I was going to die; But God has allowed me to know more than most people know – so I’m not complaining. The third thing I know is that I am God’s instrument; I have faith that God will let me know what I’m supposed to do, and when I’m supposed to do it.”
Owen has complete faith that there are reasons for his being the way he is. This is an example of Owen’s self-knowledge. He knew these things with a complete certainty and accepted them. Few people will have blind faith in something. Owen had questions, but he still put his faith in God, bowing to his superiority. He knows who he is. He understands his purpose. He is told by many that he is crazy and insane for thinking that there is a plan for why he has the voice he has. He is also told that he should run far away from what he thinks his destiny is, but Owen is not most people. He knows what his destiny is and runs towards it.
Owen’s self-awareness and knowledge is what allows him to feel that he is headed towards the right path. In the end, Owen was right. He is able to save the Vietnamese children, “It was not only because he spoke their language; it was his voice that compelled the children to listen to him – it was a voice like their voices. That was why they trusted him, why they listened. ‘DOONG SA,’ he said, and they stopped crying.” (Irving 612) In the end, Owen is to be admired for his self-knowledge. Johnny would now be wrong in thinking Owen to be strange for thinking that his odd voice had a purpose. It did have a purpose. Owen’s voice helped him save the Vietnamese children.
Owen Meany has a great deal of confidence in himself. If he sets his mind to do something, he can do anything. Owen Meany desperately wanted to join the army and be able to fight so that he could fulfill his purpose that he discovered in his dream. “If there’s a war and I’m in the army, I want to be in the war … I don’t want to spend the war at a desk. Look at it this way: we agree that Harry Hoyt is an idiot. Who’s going to keep the Harry Hoyts from getting their heads blown off?” The way that Owen ended the statement, almost makes him sound cocky. In a way, he is, but another term to describe it would be that Owen is confident. He places total trust in God that what will happen will happen. He is confident that he is going to die, fulfill his purpose in life and be a hero. It is uncanny how unshakable Owen’s faith is.
Most people are unable to practice what they preach, and Owen does what he thinks is right. He does live by his rules. It is unbelievable that he is willing to throw away his life because of his faith in God. He does not even have any proof of assurance that God does exist, but in his mind he does not need any. When Owen would be practicing his basketball shot with Johnny and it would get dark, he would ask Johnny if he could still see a statue of Mary Magdalene after it became completely dark.
He would ask Johnny how he could be certain that she was still there, if he could not see her, “You absolutely know she isn’t there – even though you can’t see her?’ … Well, now you know how I feel about God … I can’t see Him – but I absolutely know he is there!” (Irving 451) Owen explains to Johnny that he just knows in his gut and instinctively that God exists. In the same way that people can understand and accept that other things exist without physical proof, Owen is convinced of the existence of God. His confidence is daunting. It is unusual for a person to be so rationally convinced about theology and at the same time be willing to go to extremes in the name of God.
When he was getting closer to the day of his death, he had doubts, “I don’t know why he’s here – I just know he has to be here! But I don’t even ‘know’ that – not anymore. It doesn’t make sense! Where is Vietnam – in all of this? Where are those poor children? Was it all just a terrible dream? Am I simply crazy? Is tomorrow just another day?” Owen is growing up. He is scared and confused. He doesn’t know why Johnny has to be there for his dream to come true. He doesn’t know if anything is going to happen. His doubts are the most important step to his growing up. In the end, he was right all along.
The character, Owen Meany, was a miraculous one, due to his maturity, self-knowledge and confidence, in the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Owen was always mature for his age, but he was able to improve on it and make better judgements. He understood that although Kennedy was someone who had been a hero to him, that things are not always as you want them to be. He was able to open his mind to this, and eventually accept the possibility that Kennedy might have behaved inappropriately.
Owen had an extreme amount of assurance in himself. He just knew some things and did not feel the need to question them too much. He knew that there was a reason for his voice and although, he wanted to know why, he did not feel daunted by this. He had faith in his ability to do things, even some that he did not manage to do, such as, going to war. Owen’s confidence is the last important point in his path to ‘growing up’. He had doubts and fear, but in the end his confidence in God and himself won out. Owen finally grew up, when he did what he was meant to do by God.