A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
One of the most noticeable characteristics about Owen is that he has this weird voice that, according to John, sounds like he's always shouting through his nose. It's not just the other characters in the novel who notice it; we notice it too – after all, every line spoken by Owen is WRITTEN IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, LIKE THIS. So why does Owen have a weird voice? Isn't it bad enough for him that he's so much shorter than everyone else and gets passed around like a doll? Isn't it tough enough for him that he has big, floppy ears and that you can see his veins through his skin? Why does he have to have a weird voice, too? We have a couple of thoughts on this front.
To begin with, Owen's voice automatically sets him apart from other people. He's not just somebody that we remember; he sticks out to others, too. There are plenty of other short, funny-looking people in the world, but not just anyone has a voice like Owen's. In fact, Owen's voice makes him so memorable that even when Harriet loses her mind and can't remember anyone else in her own family, she remembers Owen solely because of the way he talked.
Why is it important for Owen to have characteristics that make him so unique? Well, if we accept Owen's view that he's "chosen" and that he's "God's Instrument," it goes without saying that he should somehow be one of a kind, right? Beyond that, let's not forget that, at the end of the novel, Owen realizes that his voice is a key tool for helping the orphans to calm down when Dick Jarvits comes barging in with a grenade. Since Owen's voice is strangely childlike, the orphans calm down immediately and heed his instructions. For Owen, this is a real lightbulb moment; all of a sudden, he's got a very concrete reason to explain why his voice never changes: he needs it as part of his effort to save the orphans. Interestingly, this view also helps to solidify Owen's sense that what happens to him is destiny rather than coincidence. Owen's lifelong characteristic of having a weird voice ultimately seems meant to be, and it further justifies the idea that his fate is meant to be, too.