Study Guide

The World According to Garp Memory and the Past

By John Irving

Memory and the Past

Memory's a funny thing, and sometimes the thing that feels true isn't the thing that actually happened. The World According to Garp examines this idea through the eyes of T.S. Garp, a writer with a tortured relationship with his own past. We get front row seats as Garp struggles to unearth traumatic memories and transform them into best-selling novels. It's not always pretty—in fact, there are times when it's too painful for him to continue—but it isn't until death is staring at him in the face that Garp realizes just how valuable memory truly is.

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. What is the relationship between memory and Garp's fiction? Give examples, please.
  2. What does the novel have to say about the truth of our memories? Does the message vary?
  3. How does the past of Vienna affect Garp's time there?
  4. In what ways are the novel's characters haunted by traumatic memories? Is there any character that isn't? If so, who and why not? And if not, what does this say about memory?

Chew on This

The World According to Garp is a study of the way that traumatic memories define the course of our lives, no matter how much we try to repress them.

Through Garp, Irving argues that the "truth" of memory is inferior to the "truth" of fiction.