Study Guide

A Prayer for Owen Meany Principles

By John Irving

Principles

"HOW CAN YOU BE HAPPY IF YOU SPEND ALL YOUR TIME THINKING ABOUT DOING IT?" Owen asked. (4.53)

On principle, Owen thinks there's more to life than thinking about sex.

"Owen doesn't think it's right to try to change his voice," I said. (4.341)

Owen is convinced that his voice is so loud and screechy for a reason, and on principle he believes that it's not up to him to decide what to do with it.

"A GREAT ACTOR DOESN'T NEED A FACE," Owen said. (4.380)

According to Owen, a truly great actor can take over the room through his mere presence – he shows us this when he plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He has no lines, and nobody can see his face, yet he is the most disturbing and moving character in the whole play.

"WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO REFER TO ME AS 'LITTLE,' AS 'DIMINUTIVE,' AS 'MINIATURE'?" Owen raved. "THEY DON'T MAKE SUCH QUALIFYING REMARKS ABOUT THE OTHER ACTORS!"

"You forgot 'Tiny Tim-sized,'" I told him.

"I KNOW, I KNOW," he said. "DO THEY SAY, 'FORMER DOG-OWNER FISH' IS A SUPERB SCROOGE? DO THEY SAY, 'VICIOUS SUNDAY-SCHOOL TYRANT WALKER' MAKES CHARMING MOTHER FOR TINY TIM?" (5.6-8)

It really bugs Owen that the review of his acting pays so much attention to his physical size. Sure, his stature is one of his most noticeable characteristics, but it doesn't really have anything to do with his acting – and also, the review doesn't say anything about the other actors' personal characteristics!

"ARE YOU TELLING ME CHRIST WAS LUCKY?" Owen asked her. "I WOULD SAY HE COULD HAVE USED A LITTLE MORE LUCK THAN HE HAD. I WOULD SAY HE RAN OUT OF LUCK, AT THE END."

"But Owen," Rector Wiggin said. "He was crucified, yet he rose from the dead—he was resurrected. Isn't the point that he was saved?"

"HE WAS USED," said Owen Meany, who was in a contrary mood. (5.112-114)

Owen provides a different perspective on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. If you look at him like just any other ordinary guy, Owen seems to be saying, he wasn't lucky; he was used.

Or we would drive to Rye Harbor and sit on the breakwater, and watch the small boats slapping on the ruffled, pondlike surface; the breakwater itself had been built with the slag—the broken slabs—from the Meany Granite Quarry.

"THEREFORE, I HAVE A RIGHT TO SIT HERE," Owen always said; no one, of course, ever challenged our being there. (6.181-182)

Here, Owen invokes a principle of ownership: if the slabs of granite that make up the breakwater once belonged to Owen's family, then somehow they still do. Even if nobody ever tells him not to sit there, he seems to think it's important to assert his right to be there.

And there was the column about required church-attendance, arguing that "IT RUINS THE PROPER ATMOSPHERE FOR PRAYER AND WORSHIP TO HAVE THE CHURCH—ANY CHURCH—FULL OF RESTLESS ADOLESCENTS WHO WOULD RATHER BE SLEEPING LATE OR INDULGING IN SEXUAL FANTASIES OR PLAYING SQUASH. FURTHERMORE, REQUIRING ATTENDANCE AT CHURCH—FORCING YOUNG PEOPLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE RITUALS OF A BELIEF THEY DON'T SHARE—SERVES MERELY TO PREJUDICE THOSE SAME YOUNG PEOPLE AGAINST ALL RELIGIONS, AND AGAINST SINCERELY RELIGIOUS BELIEVERS. I BELIEVE THAT IT IS NOT THE PURPOSE OF A LIBERAL EDUCATION TO BROADEN AND EXPAND OUR PREJUDICES." (6.202)

It's interesting to see Owen take such a strong position on not attending church. He's incredibly religious, but, more than anything, his faith stems from the fact that he has such a strong personal belief in God and not merely any organized religion. He thinks that religion should be a personal choice and not something that is forced on people.

Once again, The Voice put us in our places. "IT IS HARD TO KNOW IN THE WAKE OF THE DISTURBING DANCE WEEKEND, WHETHER OUR ESTEEMED PEERS OR OUR ESTEEMED FACULTY CHAPERONES SHOULD BE MORE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES. IT IS PUERILE FOR YOUNG MEN TO DISCUSS WHAT DEGREE OF ADVANTAGE THEY TOOK OF THEIR DATES; IT IS DISRESPECTFUL OF WOMEN—ALL THIS CHEAP BRAGGING—AND IT GIVES MEN A BAD REPUTATION. WHY SHOULD WOMEN TRUST US? BUT IT IS HARD TO SAY WHETHER THIS BOORISH BEHAVIOR IS WORSE OR BETTER THAN THE GESTAPO TACTICS OF OUR CHAPERONES." (6.229)

Owen has some pretty firm principles when it comes to sex and women. He always comments on how degrading it is to treat women like sex objects. Here, he takes on two issues: first, he thinks that a lot of guys behaved inappropriately towards their dates at the school dance. Second, he thinks that the chaperones cracked down a little too hard on the guys and interfered in areas that were none of their business.

There was more, and it was worse. Owen suggested that someone check into the admissions policy at the small private day school in Lake Forest; were there any Jews or blacks in Mr. White's school? Mr. Early, in his capacity as faculty adviser to The Grave, killed the column; the part about the faculty being "TYPICAL TEACHERS—INDECISIVE, WISHY-WASHY" […] that was what forced Mr. Early's hand. Dan Needham agreed that the column should have been killed.

"You can't imply that someone is a racist or an anti-Semite, Owen," Dan told him. You have to have proof." (6.384-385)

Here, we see a principle invoked by somebody other than Owen. Dan insists that you can't make claims against someone else without having a strong basis for them.

"Tell me what she said to you, Owen," the headmaster said.

"IT WAS VERY UGLY," said Owen Meany, who actually thought he was protecting the president of the United States! Owen Meany was protecting the reputation of his commander-in-chief!

"Tell him, Owen!" I said.

"IT IS CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION," Owen said. "YOU'LL JUST HAVE TO BELIEVE ME—SHE WAS UGLY. SHE DESERVED A JOKE—AT HER OWN EXPENSE," Owen said. (7.373-376)

The headmaster wants to know why Owen made an inappropriate sexual remark about Mrs. Lish. We know that it's because she was making speculations about President Kennedy's rumored affair with Marilyn Monroe, and these speculations offended Owen. Still, even though he could potentially get in a whole heap of trouble, Owen refuses to tell the backstory; he firmly believes that he is protecting the President's reputation.