A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?
We don't know about you, but when we were reading A Prayer for Owen Meany, we couldn't believe how much attention John, our narrator, pays to every single little detail. We also puzzled over why some events or activities received so much attention. Why, for instance, does John spend so much time describing how he and Owen practice "The Shot"? (In case you forgot, "The Shot" refers to the way that John assists Owen in making a slam-dunk in basketball by hoisting him up in the air.) Why does John spend the better part of two pages talking about the layout of the airport bathroom? What is it with Owen and nuns – why does he find them so terrifying? Why is Owen so preoccupied with representations of people and animals that don't have arms? We never cease to think of other things that puzzle us.
The end of the novel takes all of these seemingly unrelated details and events and ties them into a pretty neat little bundle. John hasn't been rambling about just any old thing that popped into his head all this time; he was building up to Owen's big moment.
The end of the novel plunks us in sunny, hot Phoenix, Arizona. Owen is in the army, and one of his big duties is to escort the bodies of dead soldiers back to their families. He asks John to come meet him in Arizona, telling him that they can have a nice, relaxing vacation together. Of course, this isn't the whole story. Owen believes that he's supposed to die on July 8, 1968, and he is almost certain, based on the dreams he's been having, that John has to be there. When it all goes down and Dick Jarvits throws a grenade at the boys in the airport bathroom, we start understanding the images that have been confronting us this whole time. Owen and John use The Shot to get the grenade away from the kids. All of the images of armless creatures and people have foreshadowed that Owen will have his arms blown off. The nuns are there to comfort him in his last hours. Every little thing that has puzzled Owen or has made him nervous factors into the scene of his death in some meaningful way.