A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving is full of symbols that help reveal information about the characters and themes in the novel. The most prominent symbol is Owen Meany.
Owen is directly and indirectly represented as Jesus throughout the novel. In a Christmas pageant of 1953 at his church, he is cast for the part of Baby Jesus. Owen receiving this role in the play serves as a direct correlation between Owen and Jesus. This is also this most obvious sign that Owen is meant to be a Christ-like figure. In the same year, Owen receives the role of The Ghost of Christmas Future in A Christmas Carol. During the last performance of this production, Owen sees a tombstone with his name and apparent date of death. Jesus was aware of when he was going to die, and now Owen is too. Another very straightforward connection between the two are the circumstances surrounding Owen’s birth. After Owen’s death, his parents admit to John in a conversation that Owen was not of natural birth; he was a miracle child. They tell John that Owen had been a virgin pregnancy, similar to that of Jesus.
There are also not so obvious implications that suggest that Owen is a Christ-like figure. Owen Meany is a religious individual who very much believes in fate. In fact, he believes that he has been chosen by God to ensure the fates of everyone else. Owen believed that he interrupted the Angel of Death from taking John’s mother, Tabitha, in her sleep, which is why he ended up being the one to kill her. Owen also makes John practice a basketball move he refers to as “The Shot” with him until it is perfect. He does this because he knows how he is going to die, and that this move will help him save others when the time comes. He believes that when he dies it will be beneficial to others and potentially even save them. Owen died saving others, and Jesus died for the sins of others; their deaths are eerily similar.
Owen stands out from his peers from the beginning of the novel. Even when he speaks it is written differently than when other characters speak. This is done to make Owen stand out as unusual; he is different than the others. Along with that, Owen appears to have this power over others that allows him to influence them. The separation between Owen and his peers serves as a representation of Owen as a higher power.
The most distinguished theme in A Prayer for Owen Meany is faith. Faith is on every page of the book from start to finish. Owen himself represents the very person whom faith revolves: Jesus Christ. He is like a preacher of religion to his peers, without legitimately being a preacher. His life, and life circumstances cause those around him to have faith. John states that he is only a believer in religion because of Owen Meany. John was able to see Owen develop into the Christ-like symbol that he is first hand. He saw and was involved with Owen’s sacrificial death, which causes him to make a decision about his own views on religion and faith.
Another main theme in the novel is family. Family tells the reader a lot of information about John and Owen as the story goes on. John is a Wheelwright, a well off family that can trace its origins back to the voyage of the Mayflower. John was born into a privileged life, but is still deprived of information that is vital to his existence. Owen tells John that God will one day help him find out the true identity of his father. John had hoped his mother would tell him the answer, but her fate was secured by Owen before she had the chance to. Owen’s parents are more in the background of his life than normal parents. He has the dominating position in his relationship with them. This is because he is meant to be further represented as a higher power.
The symbol of Owen Meany as a Christ-like figure in A Prayer for Owen Meany helps develop the themes faith and family throughout the novel. Owen’s miraculous life affects all the people he is close to. His status as a symbol of Jesus shines through in all aspects of his life and makes others have faith as well.
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