Study Guide

A Prayer for Owen Meany Chapter 5

By John Irving

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Chapter 5

The Ghost of the Future

  • Just like that, Owen captures the two major non-speaking parts in the two community Christmas plays: he's going to be the Little Lord Jesus as well as the Ghost of the Future. (This seems to be some kind of clue for his role in the rest of the novel – stay on the lookout.)
  • Owen gets amazing reviews in the local paper for his performance in A Christmas Carol. Still, Dan's kind of troubled – small children burst into tears at the sight of Owen, and it makes it hard to drive home the point of the play's happy ending.
  • The play runs for a couple of weeks. Owen ends up coming down with a cold. Dan thinks it might be a good thing, because Owen's version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is so scary that it might be worth it for him to tone it down a little bit.
  • Mr. Fish ends up being kind of jealous because Owen's portrayal of the Ghost upstages his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge.
  • Johnny starts to think that Owen is getting a little full of himself; he also thinks that Owen treats his parents a little too harshly. Then again, Johnny feels a little jealous that Owen has the luxury of having both of his parents around.
  • Dan tries to get Owen to invite his parents to the Christmas Eve performance. Owen makes a lot of excuses as to why it's a bad idea to invite them.
  • One night at curtain call, Owen goes out on stage alone. He flips back his hood, and some girl in the audience faints when she sees him.
  • There's a major snowstorm. Owen muffles himself up in a scarf that Tabby had once given him – he regards it as his LUCKY scarf.
  • It's the day of the Christ Church pageant. On the way, Owen and Johnny run into Mr. Fish. Mr. Fish has never been to a Christmas pageant before. Still, he insists that he wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world.
  • Owen, who is still sick, insists that he's not going to be at his best today.
  • We find out that Mr. Fish wasn't raised with any particular religion, so he doesn't really know how much of Christ's story gets covered in a Christmas pageant.
  • Dan catches up with them, and the four of them head over to Christ Church. They see the Wiggins and the Merrills.
  • Mrs. Merrill looks freezing, and Mr. Merrill is tongue-tied as usual.
  • Barb tells Owen to come with her, because she needs to wrap him in swaddling clothes. When she gets him suited up, he complains that it's way too tight. Owen insists on wearing the scarf from Tabby for luck. Barb counters him by saying that Baby Jesus didn't need luck. Owen retorts that Jesus wasn't lucky – he was used.
  • Meanwhile, the other kids are milling around in costume, including the really ugly cows whose costumes were created by Mary Beth Baird.
  • Barb lifts Owen up and puts him in the crèche (a.k.a., Jesus' crib). She pinches his cheeks because she insists that the Baby Jesus should have rosy cheeks. Then, out of nowhere, she kisses Owen on the mouth.
  • Owen is so embarrassed and upset that he turns red; tears come to his eyes.
  • Oh, and he also gets an erection, which is especially humiliating considering that it was inspired by Barb Wiggin.
  • The show begins. Harold Crosby starts his shtick as the Announcing Angel, but he forgets his lines. He just keeps repeating, "be not afraid!"
  • Owen, who played Harold's part for years and years, whispers Harold's lines to him. Still, we know that Owen's voice isn't really the whispering type – so everyone hears it. Owen leads Harold through all of his lines.
  • Meanwhile, Mary Beth Baird is so overcome with emotion that she flops facedown in the crèche on top of Owen.
  • Now for a little comic relief: the lights onstage, particularly the angel's "pillar of light," are so hot that it makes some of the donkeys faint. Owen doesn't look so good, either. The kids in animal costumes start falling all over the place.
  • Owen tries to get Mary Beth Baird off him by pinching her butt.
  • Then, while he's scanning the crowd, Johnny notices some familiar faces. He sees Mr. Fish and Dan. Then he sees the Meanys – even though Owen had insisted that they not attend. They look shocked but awestruck.
  • All of a sudden, Owen notices them too. He sits up and points at his parents, shouting, "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING HERE?" (5.156).
  • Everyone in the audience seems taken aback; they seem to think that he's accusing each of them individually.
  • Owen continues on his tirade: "YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE!" (5.158). Mrs. Meany covers her hands. Owen insists that, "IT'S A SACRILEGE FOR YOU TO BE HERE!" (5.159).
  • Owen's father sounds super-apologetic and insists that they only wanted to see him. Owen points to the door. OK, that's not awkward.
  • Owen tells Johnny to get him out of there. Johnny picks him up and walks him down the center aisle through the audience. All of the other characters in the play follow them. (In case you aren't too familiar with Christmas pageants, let's just say we can safely assume they don't usually turn out like this one.) Barb Wiggin keeps the spotlight on them the whole way.
  • Owen's parents are waiting for him in their truck. He's still wrapped up so he can't move his legs. Johnny puts Owen in the car, and Owen commands his parents to take him home.
  • We come back to the present. It's February 4, 1987.
  • John goes to Wednesday morning communion service.
  • We meet some of the members of grown-up John's church. There's Rev. Mr. Foster, who gives communion during the week; then there's Rev. Mr. Larkin. There's also Rev. Mrs. Keeling, also known as Katherine Keeling. She is the headmistress at Bishop Strachan School, where John is an English teacher.
  • John thinks that Katherine Keeling is a great person to talk to. We learn that he really needed someone to talk to today, but Katherine wasn't there because she's on maternity leave.
  • John figures that Canon Mackie will have to do as a substitute listener. He asks Canon Mackie if he's read the news today.
  • John starts complaining about the actions of the U.S. government – they are testing nuclear weapons. He finds the actions of the U.S. to be arrogant.
  • Canon Mackie responds by talking to John about John. He tells John that his opinions can be a little bit too strong and kind of disturbing. He insists that having opinions as strong as John's is a very American thing to do (don't forget, we're in Canada now).
  • John's like, hold up – I've been a Canadian for twenty years!
  • Canon Mackie insists that John talks about America way too much. More than that, he's more anti-American than any other person Canon Mackie has ever met.
  • John tries to explain specifically what it is that's bothering him. He starts talking about the Missile Treaty of 1972 and insists that the U.S. is blatantly breaking some rules. Canon Mackie responds by telling John that he has quite the head for history.
  • John starts talking to us about his frustration with Canon Mackie. He realizes that Canon Mackie thinks he's stuck in the past. John has to admit it: he might live in the past more now than he used to.
  • He thinks about how, when Canon Campbell was in charge, he used to live more in the present.
  • We also learn that John (in the present) told the whole Parish Council that Christmas is depressing. What a Debbie Downer.
  • John lets us know that the Christmas of 1953 put the "finishing touches on Christmas" for him (5.210).
  • We go back to the day of the pageant in 1953.
  • Owen and his family have just driven away; everyone's standing around like, "OK, now what?"
  • Rev. Merrill goes up to Johnny and asks him if Owen is always "so…like that" (5.220). Johnny replies that Owen is always unpredictable and in charge. Rev. Merrill sort of smiles to himself.
  • Meanwhile, Mr. Fish, who has never seen a Christmas pageant before, gushes about how brilliant Owen's performance was. Dan explains that it was "not quite what the…author…intended" (5.221).
  • Mary Beth Baird is freaking out because she's convinced that what happened was all her fault.
  • Barb Wiggin overtakes Johnny. She's fuming mad. She tells him to tell Owen that he can't come back to the church without seeing her first.
  • Johnny is so upset that he tells Dan everything – including how Barb gave Owen an erection.
  • Meanwhile, Mr. Fish pops up and tells them that the angel is still "on-high" (5.228). (Isn't that totally brilliant?) Turns out that everyone completely forgot about Harold Crosby, and he's still hanging in the rafters. Harold is so afraid of heights that he's barfed all over himself.
  • Dan has just about had it – he lays down the law for Barb. He carries puke-covered Harold (who also really smells bad at this point) over to her and scolds her for her negligence. Then he tells her that it's not up to her to make rules for Owen Meany.
  • Johnny thinks about what he wishes he were doing on Christmas Eve – he wishes that he were in Sawyer Depot with his mom, waiting for Dan to arrive.
  • Instead, they have a cast party for the actors in A Christmas Carol at Dan's apartment.
  • Dan tries to get Harriet to go to the party, but she refuses.
  • We get to see the Christmas Eve production of A Christmas Carol. Johnny goes there with his grandmother. After he gets her situated in her seat, he goes backstage to see Owen.
  • Owen never explains why he behaved towards his parents the way he did. Johnny thinks it's kind of weird – all this time, Owen has been making a huge deal about how his parents were persecuted by the Catholic Church, and here he is, persecuting them, too.
  • It's a full audience. Johnny scans the audience and sees the Merrills, their unremarkable children, Mr. Chickering, Mr. Morrison, and others.
  • As he looks out, Johnny imagines that his birth father was there in the bleachers the day that his mom died. All of a sudden, he starts scanning the audience at the play – maybe his birth father is there, too.
  • One by one, Johnny starts to remember who was sitting in the bleachers on the day that Tabby died. He sees Mrs. Kenmore and her son, Donny, who are there to see Mr. Kenmore play the Ghost of Christmas Present. He remembers that they were at the game that day.
  • He sees Maureen Early sitting in the audience, and remembers that she was also at the baseball game, sitting in the top row next to Caroline O'Day.
  • Johnny feels awesome – he's starting to piece the puzzle together one person at a time. He figures if he can remember who was sitting in the bleachers that day, he can figure out whom his mom was waving to.
  • Johnny is so caught up in his attempt to re-construct the bleachers at the baseball game that he doesn't turn to watch the play until Owen enters the scene. A hush comes over the entire audience.
  • Owen is so scary-looking that Maureen Early pees in her pants. Awesome.
  • In the play, Owen, as the Ghost of the Future, takes Scrooge over to his grave. Owen bends over the gravestone (a mere stage-prop, or so we thought) and faints.
  • Just as suddenly as he fainted, Owen jumps up and screams. He runs offstage, and they find him sobbing in the dressing room.
  • Rev. Merrill runs in. Owen tells him that he saw his name on the grave. Dan hugs Owen and tells him that he has a fever and that it was just a story.
  • Rev. Merrill tells Owen that he'll take him home. He also tells him that he had a vision.
  • Johnny goes with them. When they get to Owen's house, he's startled to see that Owen's parents didn't even wait up for him on Christmas Eve.
  • Then Rev. Merrill takes Johnny home to 80 Front Street. Johnny gets out of the car, and Rev. Merrill is already gone when Johnny realizes that he meant to go to Dan's apartment for the cast party instead.
  • The house is dark and still. Then, suddenly, Johnny hears Germaine. She's hidden herself in the secret passage way and she's praying to Jesus to help her.
  • Johnny is terrified; he figures that there was a break-in and that Germaine is in the secret passageway hiding from thieves.
  • Turns out he's wrong. When he opens the passage door, Germaine tells him that Lydia is dead. She died while Germaine was reading to her. According to Germaine, "not nice things" happened to Lydia's body (5.347).
  • Apparently, Lydia's mouth would not stay shut after she died. Germaine had to try to tie it closed. She also scotch-taped her eyes closed.
  • Dan arrives with Harriet, whom he has driven home. He takes charge of the situation.
  • Harriet is convinced that Owen had foreseen Lydia's death. Dan says that's B.S. – he had a fever of 104 degrees, for crying out loud!
  • That night, Germaine sleeps in the other twin bed in Johnny's room. Johnny thinks of all the sleepovers he's had with Owen and wishes that Owen were there with him now.
  • All of a sudden, Johnny realizes that he feels the same way around Germaine that he feels around Hester. He is shocked to find himself scheming ways of taking advantage of her (don't forget, he's only eleven – sure, it's sketchy, but not as sketchy as it could be).
  • Johnny reaches out in between the beds, and he and Germaine hold hands. It's enough to give him an erection. This makes Johnny feel really troubled.
  • After Germaine falls asleep, Johnny goes downstairs and calls Owen. He tells Johnny that he's on the right track about discovering his dad's identity. He's also really supportive about Johnny's erection – after all, Barb Wiggin inspired the same reaction in him (yuck).
  • They talk about what Owen saw on the grave. Owen says that it was his real name. It turns out that Owen's full first name is Paul O. Meany, Junior. He saw the whole thing spelled out in front of him on the grave.
  • Johnny asks him if there was a date on the grave. Owen hesitates and then says no.
  • When they hang up, Johnny wants to cry because he knows that this is the first time that Owen has ever lied to him.

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