Study Guide

A Prayer for Owen Meany Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

The Armadillo

  • We learn that Johnny's mom's name is Tabitha, but everyone called her Tabby.
  • The only time he ever heard someone call her Tabitha was when Rev. Lewis Merrill was begging her not to leave the Congregational Church (remember, they joined the Episcopal church when Tabby got married).
  • We learn more about Johnny's family dynamics. Aunt Martha thought that Tabby (her sister) was "a little simple" (2.4). In hindsight, John thinks it's because Aunt Martha was jealous of her.
  • Even though Johnny's mom was a total hottie, we learn that she dressed pretty conservatively and only really wore black and white, though she did wear red accessories sometimes.
  • One day, Johnny worries to Owen that maybe his mom (who never flirts with other people) might turn into a flirt on the train – how else could his birth be explained? Owen shoots him down and tells him that it's a terrible thing to say.
  • We learn that Tabby met her husband on the Boston & Maine, and Johnny loved hearing the story. We find out that the guy in question is named Dan Needham, and to this day John wishes that Dan were his real father.
  • John recalls the way Dan came into his life. Let's zoom back to that day:
  • Johnny is having dinner with his mom, Lydia, and his grandmother. All of a sudden, Tabby's all like, "Hey, just met another guy on the train!"
  • Everyone expects Tabby to announce that she is pregnant, and she can tell that they think so. She clears it up and says that she just met a guy whom she really likes.
  • She also clarifies for Johnny that he shouldn't get his hopes up about this guy being his dad, since they only just met today.
  • Meanwhile, Johnny's grandmother, Harriet, is totally getting nervous. She needs to know everything about Dan, because, as John pointed out before, she's someone who cares a lot about looking good in society.
  • Harriet is less than thrilled to find out that Dan is into acting and works as a high school teacher. She's soothed, though, to hear that he went to Harvard and that his name, Dan Needham, is sufficiently WASP-y.
  • Tabby says they haven't made a date, but she knows she'll see him again.
  • With the sort of magic that usually belongs to the movies, the doorbell rings. Wonder who it could be…
  • …Why, it's Dan Needham!
  • Johnny recalls other "beaus" that his mother has brought home in the past. He refers to them as "goons." They always bring stupid gifts or talk to him like he's a baby. The one thing they all shared in common, though? They were all pretty studly in the looks department.
  • Dan Needham doesn't follow this pattern one bit. In walks this geeky-looking guy with tiny, round glasses and curly read hair. He seems like a perfect contestant for What Not to Wear.
  • Dan bypasses everyone and introduces himself to Johnny first. Dan hands him a package and tells him that it's not for him. Dan tells Johnny that he has to trust him with it for a little bit and that he should hide it somewhere where no pets can get to it.
  • While the grownups settle in the living room, Johnny stares at the package that Dan gave him.
  • Dan talks about how one of his favorite tricks with his students is to bring some sort of "prop" to capture their interest.
  • Johnny can't stand it any longer and opens the bag. The face of a strange creature stares back at him: "It looked like a weasel in a shell – like a ferret with scales" (2.79).
  • Turns out it's an armadillo – a dead, stuffed one to be specific.
  • Johnny ends up loving this armadillo, and so does Owen. They start playing this game all the time where they go up to the attic and hide the armadillo in the closet that holds Johnny's dead grandfather's clothes. It never fails to make Owen scream when he finds it.
  • John explains that, before he met Dan and the armadillo, he reserved his expectations of "unusual" things for Owen Meany and his cousins in northern New Hampshire.
  • We learn that Aunt Martha, Uncle Alfred, Hester, Simon, and Noah live up in Sawyer Depot, about two hours from Gravesend by train.
  • Johnny describes his cousins as "good-natured, rambunctious roughnecks and daredevils who genuinely wanted me to have fun" (2.101).
  • There's a lot of excitement when Johnny hangs out with his cousins. They're all older than he is, but they're all within three years of him – Noah's three years older, Simon is two years older, and Hester is less than one year older.
  • The Eastmans (that's their last name) are full of energy both outdoors and indoors. We also learn that Hester is the kind of girl who creates a lot of sexual tension, even with Johnny, who is her cousin for crying out loud.
  • The Eastman cousins create this game called "through the house," in which everyone has to run through the entire house and end up back in Hester's room. The last person to arrive has to kiss Hester, also known as "Hester the Molester."
  • Obviously, Johnny loses and has to kiss Hester. Afterwards, she teases him about his hard-on.
  • One day, Johnny and Owen are hanging out, and Owen asks if he can go up to Sawyer Depot with Johnny and his mom sometime. Johnny figures that his rambunctious cousins would probably kill Owen instantly, so Johnny tries to make some excuses.
  • Johnny ends up letting Owen take the armadillo home while he's away – you know, in case anything bad happens.
  • One Thanksgiving, the Eastmans come to 80 Front Street to spend the holiday with the Wheelwrights. Owen wants to meet them. He does his homework on them – he knows their names, ages, and sizes before he even meets them.
  • Before introducing Owen, Johnny tries to prepare his cousins for what they're going to encounter – basically, a puny guy with a funny voice.
  • The day after Thanksgiving, Owen shows up at 80 Front Street. When the Eastman kids first meet him, they're totally stunned. Owen introduces himself while the three cousins just gawk at him. They seem to lose all of their wildness – they're polite and considerate and want to do whatever Owen wants to do.
  • They decide to play a game of hiding in the dark. In this game, Hester is supposed to hide in the big closet that holds their Grandfather's clothes. One at a time, the boys have to go in and try to find Hester before she pulls their "doinks."
  • The game starts. Hester does a little bit of damage to both of her brothers, and then Owen goes in for his turn.
  • Hester doesn't grab Owen's you-know-what; instead, she tickles him. He's overwhelmed and wets his pants. Then he runs out of the room and is out the front door of the house before anyone can stop him.
  • Johnny and his mom get in the car to try to find Owen, who's sadly and unsuccessfully trying to pedal his bike up Maiden Hill. He's super-embarrassed. He's afraid of having to tell his parents about what happened.
  • Owen also starts ranting about how he doesn't care what the Eastmans do to him. He doesn't want to be treated like a piece of porcelain. He's upset because he never gets to do anything cool.
  • Tabby soothes Owen, and they end up going back to 80 Front Street. Owen takes a bath and puts on some fresh clothes.
  • Owen comes up with a new game for everyone to play: they get to take turns hiding him! Sometimes being tiny is really convenient.
  • In the present, John reflects about that day, and how his memory of Owen pathetically trying to ride his bike up the hill must be exactly the same as what Owen looked like the day that he hit the ball that killed Tabby.
  • John recalls the night after his mom's death. Here it goes:
  • Johnny spent that night at 80 Front Street. At this point, Dan and Tabby had been married for a while, and the three of them had been living in a faculty apartment in a dormitory at Gravesend Academy.
  • Johnny hears a noise in the driveway and gets up to see what it is. It's Mr. Meany's truck. Owen gets out of the passenger side and takes out a few large cartons from the back. He doesn't ring the bell; he just leaves the cartons at the back door.
  • Johnny discovers that the cartons contain Owen's greatest treasure: his baseball card collection. Johnny isn't sure if this means that Owen's done with baseball for good, or if it means that he's supposed to do something with the cards – like burn them, for instance.
  • Dan suggests that Owen probably wants the cards back at some point. He also tells Johnny that he has to give Owen something to show him that he loves him, because that's what Owen was showing Johnny.
  • Johnny decides to give his armadillo to Owen. Owen keeps the armadillo for two weeks and then returns it.
  • When Owen gives back the armadillo, Johnny notices that Owen has removed its claws. Weird, right?
  • Dan checks out the claw-less armadillo and decides that Owen is really original and smart.
  • We come back to the present, which is 1987. John lives in Toronto now. He tries not to read American newspapers or magazines. He feels like America isn't far away enough for him.
  • John is really critical of Ronald Reagan (Reagan was the U.S. President in 1987).
  • John thinks back on another period in U.S. history of which he feels particularly critical: the Vietnam era (in the 1960s).
  • We learn that John never fought in Vietnam, though hundreds of thousands of young American men did.
  • We also learn that it was because of Owen Meany that John stayed out of Vietnam – but we'll find out more about that later.

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