A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"I DON'T WANT TO BE A HERO," said Owen Meany. "IT'S NOT THAT I WANT TO BE—IT'S THAT I AM A HERO. I KNOW THAT'S WHAT I'M SUPPOSED TO BE."
"How do you know?" I asked him.
"IT'S NOT THAT I WANT TO GO TO VIETNAM—IT'S WHERE I HAVE TO GO. IT'S WHERE I'M A HERO. I'VE GOT TO BE THERE," he said.
"Tell him how you 'know' this, you asshole!" Hester screamed at him.
"THE WAY YOU KNOW SOME THINGS—YOUR OBLIGATIONS, YOUR DESTINY OR YOUR FATE," HE SAID. "THE WAY YOU KNOW WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO." (8.412-417)
This passage is a classic example of the conflict between fate and free will. In this case, fate once again trumps free will. Owen doesn't feel that he wants to go to Vietnam, but he has the sense that he's supposed to go there – he sees it as part of his destiny.
"HE DOESN'T KNOW WHY HE'S HERE, AND I DON'T DARE TELL HIM," Owen wrote. "I DON'T KNOW WHY HE'S HERE—I JUST KNOW HE HAS TO BE HERE! BUT I DON'T EVEN 'KNOW' THAT—NOT ANYMORE. IT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE! WHERE IS VIETNAM—IN ALL OF THIS? WHERE ARE THOSE POOR CHILDREN? WAS IT JUST A TERRIBLE DREAM? AM I SIMPLY CRAZY? IS TOMORROW JUST ANOTHER DAY? (9.451)
This part of the novel is particularly interesting, partly because for the longest time, Owen has thought that he knows exactly what his fate is – he's certain that he's supposed to go to Vietnam, where he will die saving a whole bunch of children. He's been certain of the precise date since he was eleven years old. Yet, the day comes and he finds himself in Arizona instead. What do you think this says about Owen's control over his own destiny? Do you think it's fate that he ends up in Arizona? Do you think he was trying too hard to get himself to Vietnam?