A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany Theme of Appearances
A Prayer for Owen Meany is full of characters who are made all the more memorable because we get such vivid pictures of what each of them looks like – regardless of how much or little time we spend with them. We can almost see Hester's strong jaw; we can easily picture Reverend Lewis Merrill's high forehead and widow's peak. It's also not hard to imagine the way Tabby looks in her wardrobe of black and white. More than anyone else, though, it's Owen who stands out. He's tiny – even as an adult, he doesn't clear five feet; he has a sharp-looking nose and big, "rubbery" ears that stick out. His veins are so prominent that his skin looks translucent. He's described as being rodent-like, but he also seems to be a child who looks like an old man. Why might it be significant that we pay so much attention to appearances in this novel? Well, for one thing, even though everyone in the novel seems to have some kind of defining physical characteristic, Owen still stands out to us. We learn more and more about the ways in which Owen seems to be "special" or "chosen," but even from the beginning we know that he's one of a kind, even just because of the way he looks.
Questions About Appearances
- What seems inhuman about Owen's appearance? What seems human?
- Why, in your opinion, do we never seem to get a good description of what John looks like?
- Do you think there's a particular reason why Owen is so small? Why or why not?
- Which characters appear to be unusual-looking, and which characters appear conventionally attractive? Is there a pattern?
Chew on This
In A Prayer for Owen Meany, characters who appear to be unusual-looking on the outside are the most beautiful on the inside.
In A Prayer for Owen Meany, looks are not always correlated with personalities.