The World According to Garp

by John Irving

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What does wrestling symbolize in The World According to Garp?

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Wrestling symbolizes a couple of realities in Irving's book.  On one hand, it is the ultimate representation of the male stereotype.  In a world in which Garp lives where all of the standard gender roles have been inverted or transformed, wrestling represents typical male strength and brute force.  In some respects, wrestling might be the one realm in which Garp can revert to a standard notion of being a "man" as he enters adolescence.  It also represents a form of equalizing out the playing field, especially between Garp and the dog that once bit part of his ear.  In being able to pin down the dog as a teenager, wrestling becomes the means by which Garp is able to avenge his previous humiliation.  At the same time, wrestling symbolizes how Garth meets Helen and this is symbolic of a new avenue in his life being pursued.  To some extent, wrestling represents how Garp believes challenges in life should be met.  Garp, like his mother, believes in direct confrontation and acknowledgement of problems, something that is evident in wrestling.  The fact that he is shot as a wrestling coach represents that there are some who feel fundamentally threatened with such a perspective of seeing conflicts as issues that need to be addressed and faced directly.

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