A Prayer for Owen Meany
How we cite our quotes:
[Mrs. Merrill] suffered visibly. Her blondness turned to dry straw; her cheeks and nose turned a raw salmon color, her eyes watered—she caught every flu, every common cold there was; no epidemic missed her. Aghast at the loss of her California color, she tried makeup; but this turned her skin to clay. Even in summer, she couldn't tan; she turned so dead white in the winter, there was nothing for her to do in the sun but burn. She was sick all the time, and this cost her her energy; she grew listless; she developed a matronly spread, and the vague, unfocused look of someone over forty who might be sixty—or would be, tomorrow. (3.134)
The description of Mrs. Merrill tells us all kinds of things: we learn about her personality and her personal life; we learn about her background; and we also learn a lot about the novel's setting. We're in New Hampshire, where the weather can be so cold and rough that even the healthiest person from the west coast can suddenly be reduced to being sniffling, haggard, tired, and prematurely aged.
"Ah, yes, Owen, what was it about the turtledoves?" the Rev. Mr. Wiggin said.
"THEY LOOK LIKE THEY'RE FROM OUTER SPACE," Owen said. "NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THEY'RE SUPPOSED TO BE."
"They're doves!" Barb Wiggin said. "Everyone knows what doves are!"
"THEY'RE GIANT DOVES," Owen said. "THEY'RE AS BIG AS HALF A DONKEY. WHAT KIND OF BIRD IS THAT? A BIRD FROM MARS? THEY'RE ACTUALLY KIND OF FRIGHTENING." (4.116-119)
Owen's insistence on creating an accurate depiction of the nativity scene for the Christmas pageant is kind of interesting. There's no room for imagination in this play – it has to be precise. This shows us a couple of things about Owen: the birth of Christ isn't a legend to him – it's something that really happened and that needs to be represented perfectly. It also shows us how Owen is an expert at orchestrating the events that happen around him.
"You're too pale," she told him, actually pinching color into Owen's face.
"OW!" he said.
"The Baby Jesus should be apple-cheeked," she told him. She bent even closer to him and touched the tip of her nose to his nose; quite unexpectedly she kissed him on the mouth. It was not a tender, affectionate kiss; it was a cruel, teasing kiss that startled Owen—he flushed, he turned the rosy complexion Barb Wiggin had desired; tears sprang to his eyes. (5.121-123)
Barb's insistence that Baby Jesus be rosy-cheeked shows us a critical difference between her brand of faith and Owen's. Barb seems to be preoccupied with a pretty scripted vision of what Jesus looked like – probably blonde, blue-eyed, and rosy-cheeked. Owen, on the other hand, seems to care more about accurately representing the circumstances of Christ's birth.