A Prayer for Owen Meany is the story of John Wheelwright’s relationship with his childhood friend Owen Meany, a midget with a high, squeaky voice, whose life and death move John to have faith in God. Despite his size, Owen has a commanding presence that directs John’s life. Owen comes to symbolize a moral intensity that John finds sorely absent from American life.
In 1987, John Wheelwright, a forty-five-year-old English teacher living in Canada, is finally able to write about his experiences with Owen Meany in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when they were growing up in Gravesend, New Hampshire. John’s narrative is disjointed and nonsequential, oscillating between past and present, intermixing current news events, historical statistics, and cultural commentary with personal recollections. Unable to adjust to Canadian life and outraged at the moral malaise in the United States, John is drawn back to his youth in New England. His recollections focus on his illegitimate birth to a single mother, his mother’s marriage and untimely death, and his close relationship with Owen Meany.
Tabitha Wheelwright, John’s mother, had an affair during one of her overnight trips to Boston that resulted in John’s birth. She never tells John the identity of his father. Tabitha rises above town gossip and rears John in the stately house of her mother, Harriet Wheelwright, whose ancestors go back to the Mayflower. Tabitha is devoted to John. She later marries Dan Needham, a Harvard graduate and a teacher at Gravesend Academy. During Tabitha and Dan’s wedding, an ominous hailstorm breaks out. As Tabitha offers a ride to Owen, whom she loves almost as much as her son, a hailstone hits her on the head. Owen apologizes for the accident.
This part of the wedding scene carefully mirrors the scene of Tabitha’s death. During a boring Little League baseball game that is already lost, Owen hits a foul ball that strikes Tabitha on the head, killing her. This scene propels John on his quest for his father. John believes that his mother was waving to his father when she was hit. The baseball, which the local policeman calls the murder weapon, mysteriously disappears. Owen is convinced that he is God’s instrument. Overcome by a sense of destiny, Owen believes that he frightened the angel of death away from John’s mother one night and thus was ordained to be the instrument of her death....
(The entire section is 987 words.)