Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)
The World According to Garp is in many ways John Irving’s most traditional novel, recounting the life story of a man, his family, his friends, and his world. In a sense, Irving’s The World According to Garp is a modern version of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. (1759-1767). Like Irving, Sterne combines wit and sentiment to produce an original novel with the ultimate purpose of making readers laugh. Both novels recount sentimental journeys, including serious subjects such as death, misfortune, and sex, but they are humorous as well. The source of humor is inherent in the style of both of the novelists as they defy readers’ expectations. Both Irving and Sterne seek to show a view of what life really is like, which is the goal of the realistic novel. Furthermore, both novels show a concern for human relationships and for the difficulty of communication between people. Although they are filled with violence and death, the focus is on the affirmation of life.