Study Guide

The World According to Garp Chapter 17

By John Irving

Chapter 17

The First Feminist Funeral, and Other Funerals

  • Garp is upset to learn that Jenny's supporters are already planning a service, dubbed "the first feminist funeral in New York" (17.6).
  • Despite his reservation, though, Garp wants to go. Roberta says that he can't—both because the feminist community isn't too fond of him at the moment and, more importantly, because there are no men allowed.
  • The only solution is for Garp to dress in women's clothes. Helen and the kids aren't going; they're going to Steerling to see Ernie because he hasn't been answering her calls.
  • The funeral is filled with women wearing nurse's outfits—Jenny's style has become a national trend, and women all over the country are wearing fake nurse outfits with "little red hearts stitched over their breast" (17.110).
  • Garp is there in drag. He looks ridiculous, but thankfully Roberta is there to help him navigate the waters.
  • Several women (including Sally Devlin, the gubernatorial candidate) attempt to speak, but each becomes too emotional to finish. Garp is moved by the feeling of unity, the feeling of sisterhood.
  • He feels a hand on his shoulder. It's a woman ranting about how Garp killed her sister. Huh? To Garp's shock, it's Pooh Percy, daughter of Fat Stew, and the sister she's talking about is Cushie.
  • Pooh loudly announces that "Garp is here" (17.144). Roberta tries to clear the way for Garp to escape, but she gets taken down pretty quickly. Luckily, a woman named Dotty (who's wearing a real nurse's uniform) helps him get to a cab
  • The cab driver talks rudely about Sally Devlin's emotional breakdown during the funeral and Garp gets in his face. He doesn't even have time to change his clothes before getting on a plane to Steerling.
  • On the plane, he's approached by a young girl who hands him a note. Garp assumes that she's an Ellen Jamesian, but the truth is far more shocking—she's "the Ellen James" (17.204). Whoa.
  • She went to the funeral, but not just to pay her respects to Jenny—she came to meet Garp. She has read The World According the Bensenhaver eight times already.
  • Realizing that Ellen doesn't have anywhere to go—especially with Jenny gone—Garp tells her to join his family. Ellen looks "as if she had fainted with joy" (17.233).
  • Ellen tells Garp that she hates the Ellen Jamesians, because she would give anything to be able to speak. Fortunately, she has found her voice; she wants to become a writer.
  • They arrive to bad news: Ernie has passed away. Dean Bodger tells Garp that Ernie had a heart attack while reading "the issue of Crotch Shots" (17.257) that contains the first chapter of Bensenhaver. Neither man wants to share this information with Helen.
  • Coincidentally, Fat Stew died the same day. Both funerals will be held at the Steerling chapel the following day.
  • Garp introduces Ellen to the family. Helen is upset, but seems comforted by Garp's presence and quite amused by his saucy attire. She asks Garp to go by the chapel in the morning to confirm that the organist won't play the same tunes at both funerals.
  • But Garp shows up just as Fat Stew's funeral is about to go underway and gets roped into acting as a pallbearer. Nobody recognizes him, so he says that he is "Mr. Smoans [...] class of '61" (17.313).
  • Mrs. Percy, who's at the funeral, reveals that she has to sell the famous Steerling house. And, for some reason, Garp decides that he wants to buy it. He forgets tells the organist to play different music.