Study Guide

The World According to Garp Chapter 18

By John Irving

Chapter 18

Habits of the Under Toad

  • Helen is offered a teaching job at Steerling, but she hasn't forgotten how she wasn't allowed to go to the school "when she was a girl" (18.2)—while they now allow female students, Helen just won't forget that slight.
  • Garp isn't writing—he even claims that he might not write ever again—and instead, he takes over Ernie's position as Steerling's wrestling coach. Helen knows that Garp is scared of the dark personal issues that his semi-autobiographical writing unearths.
  • They fix up the Steerling mansion and settle in. Duncan attends Steerling, although he chooses to join the swimming team rather than his father's wrestling squad; he and Ellen become fast friends and even write "a screenplay together" (18.31).
  • Since Jenny's death, Garth has been tasked with forming the Fields Foundation to continue his mother's work. Luckily, he has Roberta's help, and she helps him manage the Foundation and takes over day-to-day operations at Dog's Heads Harbor.
  • One of Garp's primary tasks with the Foundation is approving requests for grant money from women in need. It also happens to be Garp's least favorite part of the job.
  • They receive a request from "the divorced wife of the man who had killed Jenny Fields" (18.82), Kenny Truckenmiller. She's a self-employed hairstylist and claims that she needs money to support herself.
  • They divorced about a year before the assassination. Kenny blamed the feminist movement for the fact that he has to pay child support, and throughout their marriage, he was abusive to her and their children.
  • Roberta is skeptical—she thinks the woman could be a prostitute—so they decide to send Garp to her home in New Hampshire to find out for sure.
  • Garp tries to convince the board of directors to ban Ellen Jamesians from Dog's Head Harbor, but although the board is sympathetic toward his perspective, he finds no support.
  • Garp is worried; he thinks that the movement is capable of doing something "mindless" (18.143)—like killing—in the name of their ideology.
  • Meanwhile, Ellen has been showing Garp her writing, and the Garpmeister loves her style. The piece he loves the most is titled "Why I'm Not an Ellen Jamesian."
  • Garp encourages her to publish it despite Helen's protests. John Wolf knows a moneymaking article when he sees one, and though Garp realizes that the ensuing publicity will be bad for Ellen, it's too late. This train has already left the station.
  • On the night before its publication, Garp is visiting Mrs. Truckenmiller in New Hampshire. Her house is marked with a sign reading "Nanette's Beauty Salon" (18.208), but her name isn't Nanette—it's Harriet.
  • Garp quickly realizes that Harriet was being honest in her application—she's just a hairdresser—so despite her seeming lack of customers, he requests a haircut.
  • As they're finishing, a man named Dickie walks into the house. Dickie is skeptical of Garp's motives, but Harriet explains that he is her brother. Garp looks at his haircut—it looks great. Phew.
  • He goes outside to find Dickie chopping wood. Dickie tells him that he was "Kenny's only friend" (18.268), and that he shot Kenny himself.
  • Helen doesn't like the haircut; she thinks it makes Garp looks like "a body prepared by an undertaker" (18.293).
  • As expected, Ellen's essay engenders all the wrong responses from the public. Think about the comments under an average YouTube video and multiply that by ten.
  • Ellen is crushed. Garp writes his own piece defending her, which goes about as well as you might expect. He wants to write more, but Ellen humbles him into stopping.
  • Garp and Roberta normally exercise together, except when Roberta is in New York for her "not infrequent [...] trysts" (18.331). During one of those trips, Garp is left to do his morning jog alone while stewing about which story to read for an upcoming Fields Foundation event.
  • Suddenly, Garp sees a car barreling toward him. He manages to get out of the way, but the car crashes off-road. Inside is a deceased Ellen Jamesian—this was an assassination attempt.
  • Even so, Garp decides to go through with the public reading to the Fields Foundation. He decides to read "The Pension Grillparzer" on a whim and, to his surprise, everyone loves it.
  • Garp is even more surprised when Duncan shows him a full set of illustrations he made of the story. Garp tells Wolf to publish a "special edition" (18.362) of "Grillparzer," which has never seen a wide public release.
  • These recent experiences change Garp. He starts writing again—first a letter of apology to the Ellen Jamesians, and then the beginnings of his next novel, My Father's Illusions. He even becomes exceedingly generous when it comes to the Fields Foundation.
  • Helen is also making changes: She finally agrees to teach at Steerling. And—well—the next chapter title is a bit of a spoiler. So let's just get to it, shall we? Onward.