Study Guide

The World According to Garp Chapter 19

By John Irving

Chapter 19

Life After Garp

  • It's an average February day. Helen is bathing baby Jenny, Garp is making sure Duncan is wearing warm clothes, and Ellen James is getting ready to drive to a college course.
  • Garp calls Roberta to see if she wants to join him at wrestling practice, but "Roberta couldn't play" (19.15).
  • He spends the rest of the morning writing My Father's Illusions before grabbing lunch with a young grad student named Don Whitcomb, who would go on to become Garp's most famous biographer.
  • After his lunch with Whitcomb, Garp heads into wrestling practice. Helen shows up a few hours later.
  • A nurse walks in. It takes Garp a moment to realize that something's fishy—she's wearing a "Jenny Fields Original" (19.40)… Oh no—it's Pooh Percy.
  • Pooh pulls out a gun and shoots Garp before Helen can tackle her. Helen can tell from her wordless grunts that Pooh is an Ellen Jamesian now.
  • Garp is dying in Helen's arms. He wishes that he could tell her that the "Under Toad was very familiar" (19.98) and that she need not be scared.
  • Garp's death prompts a fresh reprinting of The Pension Grillparzer and a metric butt-load of sales for his other books. We guess this is some sort of consolation…
  • But what happens to the rest of our friendly characters in a post-Garp world?
  • Alice and Harrison only have one daughter; they both die in a plane crash.
  • Helen never remarries. She becomes a respected teacher and dies at a ripe old age.
  • Dean Bodger remains "active" (19.77) as Steerling's dean "long after his retirement" (19.78), and he dies while watching a particularly intense wrestling match.
  • Donald Whitcomb becomes "the Garp scholar" (19.87) and helps keep Garp's works away from less kind hands.
  • Ellen James becomes a successful poet after her first compilation, entitled Speeches Delivered to Plants and Animals. The Ellen Jamesian movement, on the other hand, passes away soon after Garp.
  • Ellen never marries, but maintains "a lifelong flirtation with Duncan" (19.123). Duncan outlives her, though, and Ellen dies after being pulled under by the undertow.
  • Florence Cochran Bowlsby—a.k.a. the one and only Mrs. Ralph—writes Helen a sympathetic letter after Garp's death, and she and Helen become friendly after this.
  • Pooh is sent to a mental institution and eventually released, at which point she has a child and manages to become a functioning member of society again.
  • John Wolf publishes Whitcomb's biography of Garp, titled Lunacy and Sorry: The Life and Art of T.S. Garp. Wolf also edits a posthumous release of My Father's Illusions, although Helen doesn't allow its release until after her death.
  • Roberta lives long enough "to grow at last comfortable with her sex reassignment" (19.173). What no one knew, though, is that Roberta and John Wolf had a relationship.
  • Roberta cares for Duncan after he loses his arm in a motorcycle accident, sending a young "transsexual" to take care of Duncan's New York apartment while he's in the hospital—not to mention sending Duncan flirtatious letters all of the time.
  • Roberta dies suddenly one day. Ellen goes inside to fix her a glass of lemonade and returns to find Roberta "dead in the hammock" (19.238).
  • Duncan and Jenny are devastated by Roberta's death. When Duncan gets back to New York, however, he falls in love with the girl who moved into his apartment and they get married.
  • Duncan goes on to become a successful painter "with his father's sense of humor" (19.269); he dies after choking on an olive at a party.
  • Jenny Garp "outlive[s] them all" (19.296). She becomes a nurse and steals one of her father's famous phrases in reference to her own career. In Garp's world—and in Jenny's— "we are all terminal cases" (19.306).