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A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany


by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany Chapter 7 Summary

The Dream

  • Owen and John are nineteen-year-old seniors at Gravesend Academy. Eight years after the fact, he verbally tells John what he suggested when he symbolically mutilated John's stuffed armadillo: "GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER…MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT" (7.2).
  • It's Christmas vacation, 1961. Owen and John are in the midst of applying to college. Owen has applied to Harvard and Yale. He's also been offered a full scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, even though he didn't even apply there.
  • Owen tries to persuade John to try to get into a better college than the University of New Hampshire. John thinks it's unfair of Owen to expect him to go through the whole process of applying to Harvard and Yale only to be rejected.
  • Owen infuriates John by announcing that he figures he'll end up at the University of New Hampshire, too: "'I DON'T SEE HOW I CAN LET YOU FEND FOR YOURSELF,' he said" (7.13).
  • Owen keeps coming up with excuses why he should go to UNH instead of Harvard or Yale – he should look after his parents; he should be near Hester, too.
  • John is getting pretty fed up with Owen. They practice the shot again with the clock set for four seconds. Owen completes the shot with a second left to spare. Owen is like, "see what a little faith can do?"
  • John tells Owen that with practice they can start landing the shot in three seconds; Owen insists that they can do it with faith, not practice. Owen is really big on faith, in case you couldn't already tell.
  • We learn that this year is the first time in their lives in which Owen and Johnny have really started to become cranky with one another.
  • As seniors, Owen and John have the privilege of traveling to Boston on Wednesdays or Fridays if they feel like it.
  • Most Gravesend seniors go to Boston to go boozing with their fake IDs (made by our pal Owen). That's not really Owen's idea of a good time. He disapproves of drinking because he doesn't like it when people lose control.
  • One night, they go to a bar called Old Freddy's and watch an old-ish stripper do her thing onstage. Owen is completely disgusted and insists that he and Johnny find a "NICE PART OF TOWN" to hang out in (7.42).
  • They end up on Newbury Street, an upscale street in Boston. John's all like, what the heck are we doing here? Owen tells him that he's really unobservant.
  • They approach a store called Jerrod's. Owen takes a dress label out of his pocket bearing the same name and logo. The label was taken out of Tabby's red dress. John is like, hold up, I thought my mom said this store burned down! Something is up here, that's for sure.
  • They go inside the store to ask if there was ever a fire there.
  • In fact, that question comes right out of Owen's mouth the second they walk in. They also ask if they're speaking to Jerrold.
  • The owner asks his dad, the real Jerrold (actually, his name is Giovanni Giordano) to come talk to John and Owen.
  • Turns out that there was never any fire. Whoops.
  • John shows Mr. Giordano the label and describes the dress.
  • Owen just so happens to have brought a picture of Tabby with him. That Owen, he's always prepared!
  • Mr. Giordano takes one look and exclaims, "Frank Sinatra!" – turns out he remembers her as "The Lady in Red" and that she used to sing in a nearby club. Johnny is totally astounded, but Owen just smiles as though he's known this news all along.
  • Mr. Giordano explains that the place where Tabby used to sing was perfectly respectable – it was a "supper club" in which people would have dinner and then dance. Tabby used to sing there on Wednesday nights, which explains why she always had to spend the night in Boston.
  • We find out that Tabby never sang under her own name – she was always "The Lady in Red."
  • It turns out that Owen also has the name and address of Tabby's singing and voice teacher handy.
  • They go to see Mr. McSwiney, Tabby's former voice teacher. They have to wait for him to finish up a lesson that's in progress. While they wait, John remembers how easily Tabby had told the lie about her dress. Owen points out that John has to figure out his mom's real identity just as much as he has to figure out his father's identity.
  • They meet Mr. McSwiney, who is amazed by Owen's voice (the boys are there under the pretense of needing to get Owen's voice a little bit normalized).
  • Mr. McSwiney has Owen do some vocal exercises and determines that Owen's larynx is stuck in place. He might need surgery. Owen says he doesn't want to change his voice because God gave him his voice for a reason.
  • Owen admits that the reason they came to visit is because Mr. McSwiney knew Tabby. He gives Mr. McSwiney the photo.
  • Mr. McSwiney recognizes Tabby as "The Lady in Red" and tells the boys a few things he remembers about her. He mentions that Tabby deliberately bought the red dress because she wanted to be totally out of character once a week.
  • He also tells the boys that a man named Meyerson was the one who came up with the name "The Lady in Red." Meyerson owned the club where Tabby sang – it was called The Orange Grove.
  • Mr. McSwiney asks John if he's looking for his father. When John replies that he is, McSwiney tells him not to bother – if his dad wanted to find him, he would have already. Owen insists that God will tell John who his father is.
  • We reach New Year's Eve, 1961. We learn that there are 3,205 military personnel in Vietnam. Hester, Owen, and John celebrate at 80 Front Street. Hester gets trashed and spends the evening barfing in Harriet's rose garden.
  • John falls asleep early, but Owen stays up all night. He seems to be content to face the future, although John wonders if Owen is still thinking about the date of his death.
  • On New Year's Eve of 1962, there are 11,300 soldiers in Vietnam. Owen, Hester, and John spend New Year's Eve together once more, and Hester yaks up her booze in the rose garden yet again.
  • John and Owen don't have the guts to tell Dan about their investigations in Boston. They aren't sure if Dan already knows about Tabby's past or not.
  • Owen suggests one possible strategy of bringing it up with Dan: he could write a play for Dan to put on with the Gravesend Players, and the plot can be all about Tabby and The Orange Grove.
  • We go back to New Year's Eve, 1961. During the day, the boys hang out at Hester's apartment. Hester is already drunk. Owen remarks that they have a generation of angry people to look forward to.
  • We come back to the present – it's June 9, 1987. John picks up an American newspaper and fumes a little more about the Reagans. He makes the point that Americans get bored with hearing the news about certain atrocities before it's even old news.
  • We zoom through the next handful of New Year's Eves in a matter of sentences. Every year, they celebrate at 80 Front Street. Without fail, Hester pukes up her drinks in the rose garden. Also, John never fails to mention the precise number of military personnel in Vietnam – and that number just keeps growing and growing.
  • In 1966 and 1967, John spends New Year's Eve alone at 80 Front Street, but drinks enough so he pukes in Hester's absence. We learn that Owen is in a warmer climate. Hmmm.
  • John doesn't remember New Year's Eve of 1968, but he does know that there were 536,100 U.S. military personnel in Vietnam at that point.
  • John reflects on Owen's diary entry for New Year's 1962. He writes that he knows three things: he knows that his voice doesn't change (but he doesn't know why), he knows when he's going to die (but he doesn't know how), and he knows that he's God's instrument.
  • We go back to January of 1962, when John and Owen were seniors at Gravesend Academy. Owen is now the editor-in-chief of The Grave.
  • We meet a "totally unlikeable senior" named Larry Lish.
  • Larry Lish tells John and Owen that, according to his mom, JFK is "diddling Marilyn Monroe – and countless others" (7.278). That is to say, Owen's beloved President has a reputation for sleeping around and cheating on his wife.
  • Owen is totally astounded. The news makes him downright mad. He tells Larry Lish that he's disgusting.
  • Still, the news isn't completely unbelievable. Owen is disenchanted with Kennedy, because he wonders what other horrible things he can feel justified in doing if he feels OK about cheating on his wife.
  • We meet Larry's mom, Mitzy Lish. She's kind of hot, as far as moms go. According to John, Mrs. Lish is even sexier than Hester.
  • Mrs. Lish tells John and Owen that the President doesn't just fool around with Marilyn Monroe – he fools around with lots of women. Owen gets high and mighty about how it's wrong. Mrs. Lish and Larry make fun of Owen for being so naïve – in fact, they can't contain their laughter.
  • Mrs. Lish asks Owen if he would sleep with Marilyn Monroe if he had the chance to. Owen says he wouldn't if he were married. Mrs. Lish and Larry keep on laughing – that is, until Owen jokes that he'd give Mrs. Lish a try in the sack if she were up for it.
  • Well, the news goes straight to Randy White, the headmaster, who already has it out for Owen.
  • Owen and John are summoned to the headmaster's office. Mr. White chews Owen out for propositioning Mrs. Lish.
  • Owen tells Mr. White that Mrs. Lish deserved a joke at her own expense – but he won't say why because he actually thinks he's protecting the President by not saying anything.
  • Apparently, Mrs. Lish has also told Mr. White the lie that Owen made anti-Semitic remarks to her.
  • As punishment, Owen is put on disciplinary probation for the rest of the term. He isn't allowed to go to Boston anymore. Also, out of his own volition, Owen stops writing his column as The Voice.
  • The school also makes Owen start seeing the psychiatrist, Dr. Dolder, twice a week. In addition, he starts seeing Pastor Merrill twice a week. Apparently, Owen and Pastor Merrill talk a lot about life after death, a topic that Owen especially seems to love.
  • One day in February, Owen bets a bunch of guys from the basketball team that they can't lift up Dr. Dolder's Volkswagen Beetle. Of course, they take on the challenge. Owen gets them to carry it upstairs to the Great Hall and put it on the stage. He tells them to make it look like it just flew up there, or like an angel drove it up there.
  • Later, one of the janitors discovers the car on stage. Dan is convinced that Owen is responsible, but he doesn't say anything.
  • Mr. White is likewise convinced that Owen is the one to blame. The teachers try to get the car off the stage but end up smashing it in the process.
  • Hilarity ensues, and Mr. White ends up in the infirmary after hurting his back. He remains convinced that Owen is responsible for what happened.
  • When John asks Owen about the incident, Owen replies that faith and prayer seem to work remarkably well.
  • During one of their meetings, Pastor Merrill asks Owen if he had anything to do with the Volkswagen incident. He assures Owen that their meetings are purely confidential.
  • Owen replies that it was his idea but that he didn't actually do it – it was the basketball team.
  • The winter term ends, and so does Owen's disciplinary probation. It seems like he's totally in the clear – until Larry Lish rats on him for providing the school with fake IDs.
  • Owen ends up getting thrown out of school for good. Bummer.
  • Owen disappears for a while. Dan calls the headmaster and threatens to quit if Mr. White doesn't leave the school.
  • Owen calls Harriet and tells her that he's sorry for letting her down. He promises to make her proud of him.
  • Dan and John drive around looking for Owen. When they pass St. Michael's school, they find that the statue of Mary Magdalene has been sawed clean off her pedestal.
  • They go back to the Academy and run into The Great Hall. The janitor is sitting on the front bench, staring at the stage and looking completely dumbfounded. The statue of Mary Magdalene is on the stage. Owen has removed her arms.
  • Oh, yeah, and he also sawed off her head.
  • Dan and John go to the dining hall and tell each of the students to go to morning meeting a little bit early. Then they head over to Rev. Merrill's office so they can talk to him about how to deal with the situation.
  • When they get there, Owen is sitting in Mr. Merrill's chair at his desk. He is totally restless and opens and closes each of the desk drawers over and over again.
  • Rev. Merrill shows up. Owen asks him to say a prayer for him in front of everyone at morning meeting (hmmm…does this remind anyone of the title?). Mr. Merrill starts stuttering like crazy – a sure sign that he's feeling anxious, if we've learned anything about him by this point.
  • Dan and John leave, but as they walk past the door, they hear Pastor Merrill ask Owen if he's had "the dream" again. Owen says yes and starts sobbing. Dan and John are dumbfounded.
  • We learn that Mr. White has caused some trouble for Owen with each of the colleges to which he was accepted. He loses his scholarship at the University of New Hampshire, and Harvard and Yale both want him to take a year off.
  • Owen ends up going to the U.S. Army recruiting offices. He signs up for the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps), and they pay for him to go to the University of New Hampshire. When he gets out of college, though, he'll owe the U.S. Army four years of service.
  • Anyway. Rev. Merrill gets up to speak at morning meeting. He is shocked to see the armless statue of Mary Magdalene. Oh, and did we mention, she's actually standing at the podium?
  • Randy White does the "headmasterly" thing in this situation and tries to lift up the statue. Nice try – Owen has actually bolted and welded the statue straight to the stage.
  • In spite of Mr. White's confusion, Rev. Merrill leads the boys in the hymn. Then he begins his prayer: "Let us pray for Owen Meany" (7.692).
  • Mr. White is like, "aw, hell no!" Mr. Merrill stutters like crazy but tells Mr. White that he (that is, Mr. Merrill) will finish talking when he says so.
  • Mr. White knows he's lost this battle and gets off the stage.
  • John (in the present) thinks about how if he knew then what he knows now, he would have prayed a lot harder for Owen.
  • We also learn from Owen's diary that he knows that he will die as a first lieutenant, and he also knows that he will die a hero.

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