Study Guide

A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany Characters

The Characters (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Owen Meany is both a realistic and a symbolic character. His diminutive size and screechy, undeveloped voice contrast with his powerful presence. As his name, Meany, implies, Owen believes that all actions and objects have meaning. In an indecisive world that has lost its sense of purpose, Owen sees all actions as purposeful. He processes all information, forgets nothing, and saves everything. He believes in strong moral leadership in a country of flawed leaders and morally righteous hypocrites who value public relations above human relations.

Owen is also a Christ figure. In Sunday school, he endures the other students raising him overhead. He is hung on a coat rack like a crucified Christ, and his parents tell him that he is the result of a virgin birth. Playing the Christ child, he disturbs the complacent churchgoers. Owen’s life also focuses on death and resurrection as he absorbs appropriate quotations from Scripture, hymns, and the works of William Shakespeare. He carves gravestones and later delivers the bodies of dead soldiers. Owen knows that he must sacrifice his life to save others, both physically and spiritually. He also proclaims the resurrection of the dead. Raised overhead as a young man, elevated as a Christmas angel, lifted up to slam dunk a basketball, and thrown up to a window to shelter children from a grenade, Owen is connected with resurrection even in the moment of death, as he sees himself raised above the palm trees. Owen is a...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

A Prayer for Owen Meany Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

Owen Meany

Owen Meany, a midget with a high, squeaky voice who always sees a clear destiny for himself. Because of his size, Owen is always lifted overhead by other children in his Sunday school. He is a bright young man with leadership qualities. He believes that all actions and objects have meaning. He processes all information, forgets nothing, and saves everything. Owen believes that he is God’s instrument. Although he usually is unable to hit a ball, at one little league baseball game Owen hits a foul ball that strikes and kills Tabitha Wheelwright. Owen thinks that he warded off the Angel of Death from Tabitha’s room and thus later became the agent of her death. In high school, Owen, as editor of the school newspaper, becomes the voice of moral authority. As a young man living through the Vietnam era, he criticizes his country’s flawed leadership. Owen sees his life as fated. As a child, he sees the date of his death on his tombstone and later has a dream vision that he will die saving Vietnamese children. While in a Phoenix airport, he indeed saves several children by hurling himself on a grenade. Owen’s sacrificial death, his part as the Christ child in the Christmas pageant, and his mother’s belief that his was a virgin birth mark him symbolically as a Christ figure, a hero in an age that has lost its belief in heroes.

John Wheelwright

John Wheelwright, an alienated man who holds onto his faith in God and cynically criticizes the moral laxity of the United States. As a young man, John is slow in school and depends on Owen for leadership and direction. John’s mother has...

(The entire section is 670 words.)

A Prayer for Owen Meany Characters

Typical of an Irving novel, A Prayer for Omen Meany contains a large number of characters, many of them caricatures. The narrator,...

(The entire section is 352 words.)

A Prayer for Owen Meany Characters

Owen Meany
Owen Meany is John Wheelwright's closest friend from boyhood. Owen is tiny, never growing taller than five feet, and...

(The entire section is 2386 words.)