John Irving novels, written before The World According to Garp, including Setting Free the Bears (1969), The Water-Method Man (1972), and The 158-Pound Marriage (1974), led to his modest reputation as a writer of some promise. However, The World According to Garp launched Irving into the mainstream of American literature.
In reading an Irving novel, one comes to expect and depend on the appearance of, especially, bears, the sport of wrestling, and lovable dysfunctional families who seem to invent and then subsist on their own definitions of morality and fairness. A repeated theme in The World According to Garp is the injured character, the character who has lost part of him- or herself but who carries on boldly with life. Irving’s injured character may have lost a limb, an eye, part of an ear, or the ability to speak plainly, yet this character does not shrink from life.
Injured, “incomplete” people are everywhere in this novel: T. S. Garp loses part of his left ear to a dog; Technical Sergeant Garp dies from wounds suffered in battle; Mr. Tinch and Alice Fletcher have speech disorders; the circus performer in Garp’s short story walks on his hands because he cannot use his legs; Michael Milton loses most of his penis in a freak car accident that takes the life of Garp’s son, Walt; Duncan Garp loses an eye and later an arm in this same accident; Ellen James loses her tongue, cut...
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