© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving

Society and Class Theme

One aspect of life in Gravesend that John illustrates for us is the difference between his background and Owen's background. Harriet Wheelwright, John's grandmother, pays particular attention to people's families in terms of who they are and where they come from. She can trace her roots back to the Mayflower, and her family was especially important in the founding of Gravesend. Owen's family, on the other hand, bounced around a lot and can't trace their roots back to anyone "important." Owen's family's class has a big effect on the opportunities available to him: he goes to Gravesend Academy on a scholarship and with Harriet's help. He enters the army because he can't pay for college otherwise. A Prayer for Owen Meany shows us really interesting things about how people's attitudes about society and class are shaped by who they are, where they come from, and what opportunities are available to them.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. What are some ways in which Owen triumphs over class boundaries?
  2. How do we see tensions between social classes play out between the Episcopal Church and the Congregational Church?
  3. What are some ways in which our characters lead lives that go against the norms of the social classes that they belong to?
  4. Do you think John purposely makes himself an outcast in Toronto, or do you think that the society he lives in is generally unreceptive to people with strong opinions?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In A Prayer for Owen Meany, the subject of class comes up frequently so we can see how it is an arbitrary and insufficient way of assessing a person's true character.

In A Prayer for Owen Meany, most characters adhere pretty closely to the roles that society carves out for them.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement