A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany Memory and the Past Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
"Stop it!" my grandmother told me. "I remember, I remember—for God's sake," she said. "Don't ever do that again!" she told me. But it was from my grandmother that I gained the confidence that I could imitate Owen Meany's voice at all. Even when her memory was shot, Grandmother remembered Owen's voice; if she remembered him as the instrument of her daughter's death, she didn't say. Near the end, Grandmother didn't remember that I had become an Anglican—and a Canadian. (1.90)
This moment is pretty interesting because it tells us a lot about how people remember Owen. Harriet has almost completely lost her memory – often, she doesn't even remember who John is – but Owen's voice is completely burned into her brain forever.
Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory, but it has you! (1.201)
Some things are too painful or important to ever forget – this is a central concept throughout the novel. We see how John lives largely in the past as an adult, constantly haunted by memories. Memory is a powerful force that is hard to escape.
I know many people, today, who instinctively cringe at any noise even faintly resembling a gunshot or an exploding bomb—a car backfires, the handle of a broom or a shovel whacks flat against a cement or a linoleum floor, a kid detonates a firecracker in an empty trash can, and my friends cover their heads, primed (as we all are, today) for the terrorist attack or the random assassin. But not me; and never Owen Meany. All because of one badly played baseball game, one unlucky swing—and the most unlikely contact—all because of one lousy foul ball, among millions, Owen Meany and I were permanently conditioned to flinch at the sound of a different kind of gunshot: that much-loved and most American sound of summer, the good old crack of the bat! (2.446)
Do you ever remember what song was playing when you got some bad news, or what you were doing when something unfortunate happened, or what you were wearing the day you failed a test? Little things – sounds, tastes, smells, sights – may seem insignificant in our day-to-day lives, but they have the powerful ability to evoke strong memories. For Owen and John, the sound of a bat hitting a ball will forever be connected with Tabby's death – just as people experiencing post-traumatic stress after fighting in a war cringe after hearing noises resembling gunshots.