Study Guide

A Prayer for Owen Meany Memory and the Past

By John Irving

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Memory and the Past

John Wheelwright narrates A Prayer for Owen Meany from kind of a detached perspective: most of the events of the novel take place between 1952 and 1968, but John tells us the story from the present, which in his case is 1987. As a result, most of the novel is actually a collection of John's memories – in a sense, everything that happens has already happened. Of course, memory also plays an important role within the story he tells. Only a day before he dies, Owen asks John to play the "remember game," and they go over the highlights of their childhood together. John also depends on other people's memories to try to piece together his mother's secret life.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Why do you think Tabby comes up with such elaborate lies about the red dress, and why do you think she pretends not to remember the name of the store she bought it from?
  2. How do memories sustain John as an adult? How do they harm him?
  3. Why do you think Owen asks Johnny to play the "remember game" the day before he dies? Is it more for John's benefit or for Owen's benefit?
  4. What are some reasons why it might be significant that Harriet starts to lose her memory toward the end of her life?

Chew on This

Memory is a source of strength and affirmation in tough times.

In A Prayer for Owen Meany, memories are often painful and do more harm than good.

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