A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
A Prayer for Owen Meany Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
But one day when my mother was driving Owen and me to the beach—Owen and I were ten—my mother said, "I hope you never stop helping Johnny with his homework, Owen, because when you're both at the academy, the homework's going to be much harder—especially for Johnny."
"BUT I'M NOT GOING TO THE ACADEMY," Owen said.
"Of course you are! My mother said. "You're the best student in New Hampshire—maybe, in the whole country!"
"THE ACADEMY'S NOT FOR SOMEONE LIKE ME," Owen said. "THE PUBLIC SCHOOL IS FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME." (1.113-115)
Even as a kid, Owen is acutely aware of social divisions and distinctions. Based on his roots, he sees himself fit for the public school, rather than the ritzy and prestigious Gravesend Academy, home to the silver-spoon kids of the world.
"THERE'S ALSO DRESS SHIRTS, AND SHOES," Owen said. "IF YOU GO TO SCHOOL WITH RICH PEOPLE, YOU DON'T WANT TO LOOK LIKE THEIR SERVANTS." I now suppose that my mother could hear Mr. Meany's prickly, working-class politics behind this observation. (1.119)
Owen's background and family life shape the way he thinks about Gravesend Academy. His attitude is based on a sense of pride that he seems to have inherited from his dad; he knows that he doesn't fit the common mold for students at the Academy.
"What does he do, Tabitha?" my grandmother asked. That was a Wheelwright thing to ask. In my grandmother's opinion, what one "did" was related to where one's family "came from"—she always hoped it was from England, and in the seventeenth century. And the short list of things that my grandmother approved of "doing" was no less specific than seventeenth-century England. (2.34)
Harriet is pretty old school in her ideas about society and class. She's very proud about how proper and refined she is, and her standards for what is acceptable are pretty narrow when we meet her (though she seems to cool it over time). It's interesting to see how John seems to poke fun at her attitudes all the way through the novel.