A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany Appearances Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Although my mother resisted the temptation of my generation—that is to say, she restrained herself from picking up Owen Meany—she could not resist touching Owen. You simply had to put your hands on Owen. He was mortally cute; he had a furry animal attractiveness—except for the nakedness of his nearly transparent ears, and the rodentlike way they protruded from his sharp face. My grandmother said that Owen resembled an embryonic fox. When touching Owen, one avoided his ears; they looked as if they would be cold to the touch. But not my mother; she even rubbed warmth into his rubbery ears. She hugged him, she kissed him, she touched noses with him. She did all these things as naturally as if she were doing them to me, but she did none of these things to my other friends—not even to my cousins. And Owen responded to her quite affectionately; he'd blush sometimes, but he'd always smile. His standard, nearly constant frown would disappear; an embarrassed beam would overcome his face. (1.151)
Here, we get a pretty vivid picture of Owen's physical appearance. There's more to it, though; we learn a lot about Owen's character, especially his affection for Johnny's mom, through the way his appearance changes when he's around her.
I remember him best when he stood level to my mother's girlish waist; the top of his head, if he stood on his toes, would brush against her breasts. When she was sitting down and he would go over to her, to receive his usual touches and hugs, his face would be dead-even with her breasts. My mother was a sweater girl; she had a lovely figure, and she knew it, and she wore those sweaters of the period that showed it.
A measure of Owen's seriousness was that we could talk about the mothers of all our friends, and Owen could be extremely frank in his appraisal of my mother to me; he could get away with it, because I knew he wasn't joking. Owen never joked.
"YOUR MOTHER HAS THE BEST BREASTS OF ALL THE MOTHERS." No other friend could have said this to me without starting a fight. (1.152-154)
At first glance, this passage seems to be a pretty straightforward description of Tabby's appearance – she's got a pretty nice figure, apparently, and is hotter than the other moms around town. Still, there's more beyond the surface here. It tells us about Owen's crush on Johnny's mom, that's for sure, but it also tells us a lot about Owen and Johnny's friendship. Owen can admire Johnny's mom's body without Johnny getting upset – something that no other friend can get away with.
One thing about my mother's "beaus": they were all good-looking. So on that superficial level I was unprepared for Dan Needham, who was tall and gawky, with curly carrot-colored hair, and who wore eyeglasses that were too small for his egg-shaped face—the perfectly round lenses giving him the apprehensive, hunting expression of a large, mutant owl. My grandmother said, after he'd gone, that it must have been the first time in the history of Gravesend Academy that they had hired "someone who looks younger than the students." Furthermore, his clothes didn't fit him; the jacket was too tight—the sleeves too short—and the trousers were so baggy that the crotch flapped nearer his knees than his hips, which were womanly and the only padded parts of his peculiar body. (2.68)
We aren't just getting a physical description of Dan here; we're also being shown just one out of many ways that he stands apart from the other men who pursue Tabby. In a way, Dan's unusual looks contribute to a larger sense that he's a pretty special guy. (Also, hurray for nerds!)