Study Guide

Dan Needham in A Prayer for Owen Meany

By John Irving

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Dan Needham

Dan Needham is one of those guys that you just can't help but like. We meet him for the first time when John is just six years old. He and Tabby meet on the Boston & Maine train line and instantly fall for one another. His first interactions with John tell us a lot about what a great guy he is. Dan is nothing like the other guys who have dated Tabby in the past. The others have been really good-looking and suave, but they have also treated Johnny like they don't know what to do with him. Dan is the complete opposite: he's kind of geeky, badly-dressed, and a little bit awkward, but he knows exactly how to get through to Johnny. When he comes through the front door for the first time, Johnny is the first person he talks to. He also gives Johnny an awesome gift: a real armadillo that has been preserved and stuffed. Yup, this guy is one of a kind.

Dan sort of defies the characteristics of stepparents that we often see in novels. We're so used to seeing stepdads and stepmoms described as being mean or hard to get used to, which can be the case in real life, but is just as often untrue. Dan is a breath of fresh air. He's the best dad that Johnny ever could have asked for. After dating Tabby for four years, he finally marries her (we find out later just why they had to wait so long – John's dad was sort of blackmailing them). Dan's family totally disapproves of Tabby and Johnny. They are actually kind of like Harriet in the sense that they come from a lot of money and prestige. When they look down their noses at the people that Dan loves so much, Dan ceases to have anything to do with them. It just goes to show how much he loves and cares about Tabby and Johnny.

Tabby's death is incredibly hard on Dan, but that doesn't mean that he stops caring about Johnny. Dan legally adopts Johnny and asks him to come live with him in his faculty apartment at Gravesend Academy, where he is a drama teacher. (Dan's other claim to fame is that he directs all of the community plays, as you shall see.) He remains a father figure, friend, and trusted advisor to both Johnny and Owen throughout their lives, giving them advice, getting them out of trouble, and guiding them through some pretty tough times. Owen assures Johnny that he might not actually want to find out who his real father is because it would be hard to imagine a better dad than Dan. After getting to know him throughout the novel, we kind of have to agree.

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