Owen’s character - How would you characterize Owen? What influences his behavior? How does he affect the people around him? How would you characterize his relationship with his family? What is suggested through his religious connections? What is suggested about faith and fate through his character?
The armadillo - What is the significance of the armadillo? What other symbols or elements does it connect to in the novel?
- Owen's character
Although diminutive and possessive of "a furry animal attractiveness with nearly transparent ears [that] protruded from his sharp face"--an appearance that John's grandmother terms "an embryonic fox." He has a "wrecked voice" and must shout through his nose in order to be heard; his is a voice that greatly disturbs people such as John's grandmother. Yet, Owen Meany is a religious figure who finds significance in the world around him; in some ways he is Christlike as he is raised overhead and hung on high hooks, until he is finally elevated overhead in order to save others. Owen is symbolic of a "moral intensity" lacking in American life in the 1960s, and he exudes a confidence that stands "in surprising and unreasonable juxtaposition to his tiny size."
Owen's parent seem fearful of him as they think he is the result of a virgin birth. His mother isolates herself, wearing headphones because the grinding of the granite in the shop disturbs her. Mr. Meany does all the shopping and driving, often bending to his son's will, and Owen feels that his parents need him.
The narrator and friend of Owen, John Wheelwright, states in Chapter One that on the day that Owen, with a confidence that belies his size, informs him that because of his mother's untimely death, his father will make himself known to John, Owen "began his lengthy contribution to my belief in God." Clearly, Owen is heroic as, unlike the alienated John, he is actively engaged in life; after Tabitha Wheelwright's death he declares himself "an instrument of God." As such, he amputates John's "trigger finger" in order to save his friend from the senselessness of the Vietnam War. Further, he vociferously speaks out against American foreign policy and morally righteous hypocrites.
Owen feels touched by fate. As a child in a Christmas play, he perceives his death as marked on a tombstone. After he hits a baseball that kills John's mother, Owen tells his friend, that he has been God's "instrument." He later has a vision that he will save Vietnamese children.
- The Armadillo
The incident with the armadillo in Chapter Two relates to the motif of armlessness. In Chapter Two, "The Armadillo," hunting for the stuffed armadillo becomes a favorite game of Owen. Then, after John's mother dies, neither boy can articulate what has happened; so, Owen gives John his baseball cards, while John gives Owen his stuffed armadillo. Later, Owen returns the armadillo with its claws. The is a symbolic gesture that alludes to Watahantowet's totem. Also, the dressmaker's dummy that Tabitha has in her room is armless, and Owen removes the arms and the head from the statue of Mary Magdalene before taking it inside the auditorium.
Here, of course, armlessness is symbolic. Dan Needlehan tells Owen that Owen signals John that he would "cut off his hands for you." Further, the helplessness wrought by the removal of the claws of the armadillo and the arms of the dressmaker's dummy of Tabitha signify the price that is paid for things, and the helplessness of those who suffer, as well as the fact that the two boys have lost something with Tabitha's death, something like that of the armless Watahantowet's totem, who lost the land that is now Gravesend. The armlessness is representative of helplessness against the forces of the world as well as an inability to change things. In Chapter 2, John narrates,
My armadillo had been amputated to resemble Watahantowet's totem, the tragic and mysterious armless man--for weren't the Indians wise enough to understand that everything had its own soul, its own spirit?
Further, John notes that the armless armadillo conveyed Owen's message:
GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER. MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT.