A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany Memory and the Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
Canon Mackie is skillful with me, I have to admit. He mentions "dates" and what he calls my "head for history" to set up a familiar thesis: that I live in the past. Canon Mackie makes me wonder if my devotion to the memory of Canon Campbell is not also an aspect of how much I live in the past; years ago, when I felt so close to Canon Campbell, I lived less in the past—or else, what we now call the past was then the present; it was the actual time that Canon Campbell and I shared, and we were both caught up in it. (5.203)
What's interesting here is that John suggests that we tend to turn to memory more at certain points in our lives than others. Sometimes we are easily absorbed in the present moment; at others, we retreat into our memories.
I fall asleep listening to the astonishing complexity of a child breathing in his sleep—of a loon crying out on the dark water, of the waves lapping the rocks onshore. And in the morning, long before the child stirs, I hear the gulls and I think about the tomato-red pickup cruising the coastal road between Hampton Beach and Rye Harbor; I hear the raucous, embattled crows, whose shrill disputations and harangues remind me that I have awakened in the real world—in the world I know—after all. (8.48)
For John, the present (1987) is full of triggers that inspire memories at every turn. Staying at the lake with Katherine Keeling's family reminds him of the days he spent hanging out on the beach with Owen Meany. Just as easily, though, certain noises or events snap him back to the present.
I know that Grandmother was afraid of the old house, near the end. "Too many ghosts!" she would mutter. Finally, I think, she was happy not to be "murdered by a maniac"—a condition she had once found favorable to being removed from 80 Front Street. She left the old house rather quietly when she left; she was philosophic about her departure. "Time to leave," she said to Dan and me. "Too many ghosts!" (9.108)
80 Front Street is an old house with a lot of memories stored up inside. When Harriet insists that there are "too many ghosts" there, she implies a couple of things: first of all, it's true that a lot of the people who once inhabited its walls are now gone. Beyond that, though, it's interesting to think about memories themselves as ghosts – Harriet seems to suggest that she's actually haunted by her memories.