The World According to Garp Additional Summary

John Irving


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jenny Fields is the only daughter of a New England shoe manufacturer and lives in her family’s enormous house in Dog’s Head Harbor, New Hampshire. After a few years, Jenny leaves the expensive private school her parents had selected for her and instead enrolls in nursing school. Attractive and self-assured, she has definite opinions about lust and sex; she is opposed to lust and abstains from sex. She is young, attractive, and self-assured, so friends and family assume she is sexually active.

Jenny had never had sex until one night at work at a hospital during World War II. She had decided to have sex for the sole purpose of procreation; she wanted a child. In the hospital where she works, many badly wounded soldiers are in recovery, or dying. Jenny sorts the soldiers into categories, including The Goners, those who are most severely injured. One night, Jenny sexually arouses one of the Goners, a soldier identified only as Technical Sergeant, or T. S., Garp, who had been horribly wounded while serving as a gunner on a warplane.

As planned, Jenny became pregnant with the soldier’s child—Garp, however, died. The baby was given the last name Garp, but because the boy had to have a first name as well, he was given the initials T and S, which officially stood for nothing; only Jenny knew the initials stood for “technical sergeant.” She never knew the soldier’s first name.

Jenny loved being a nurse. To simplify her life and solidify her identity, she wore her nurse’s uniform at all times. She took a job at Steering School, an all-boy’s preparatory school near her parents’ home. She could work as a nurse every day and provide for her young son a quality education. A lover of books, she remained committed to the rejection of lust and sex and became a curious but respected member of the Steering School community.

The Steering family, who resides in the nicest, biggest house on campus, is represented by Midge Steering Percy; her fat husband, Stewart; their three sons and two daughters; and a large, mean Newfoundland dog named Bonkers. As young Garp grows up at Steering School, he plays with the Percy children. One fateful day, Garp is viciously attacked by Bonkers, who bites off Garp’s left earlobe. The Percy sons do not play much of a role in Garp’s life, but the daughters, Cushman, or Cushie, and Bainbridge, or Pooh, are important to him. With Cushie, Garp has his first sexual experience, in the infirmary annex at Steering School.

Jenny decides that Garp should participate in a sport. After some investigation, she decides on wrestling. The wrestling coach, an Iowa native named Ernie Holm, has a bespectacled bookworm of a daughter named Helen. Helen loves to read, perhaps even more so than Jenny. Garp falls in love with both wrestling and the wrestling coach’s daughter. Garp’s other passions are running and writing. He writes poetry and stories and dreams of someday being a successful author. He believes that most successful authors had either lived in or traveled extensively in Europe. His English...

(The entire section is 1266 words.)

Part 1 Summary

(Novels for Students)

Garp's Conception, Birth, and Childhood
Irving's novel opens in Boston, 1942, with the introduction of T. S. Garp's mother,...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

Part 2 Summary

(Novels for Students)

Garp's Adolescence
With his mother's help, Garp becomes a competent student. He has difficulty, however, choosing a sport. He...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Part 3 Summary

(Novels for Students)

Garp's Adult Life
Jenny becomes a famous and controversial figure when her autobiography, A Sexual Suspect, is published....

(The entire section is 930 words.)