A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989) – Chapter Four: The Little Lord Jesus (146-200)
Welcome to the second installment of the joint discussion on A Prayer for Owen Meany, hosted by Care of Care’s Online Book Club. You can find the first part of the discussion here. In this discussion, we will talk about the first half of the Christmas pageant. Let’s jump in! (There are a lot of questions here, but feel free to skip around and answer only the ones you thought of. I really just tried to cover everything!)
- Something obviously changes with this chapter – we are plunged into the world without Johnny’s mom, something none of the characters are quite prepared for. There are subtle changes to mark this, including, I think, somewhat of a change in Owen. Did you feel that Owen changed? How? What do you think about Owen’s “power” over people? Do you think it presents itself even more in this chapter, or has it always been a looming presence?
- Sex/sexual discover are themes that appear frequently in Irving’s novels and for the first time we see Owen and Johnny, well, maturing. What do you think this says about Owen’s “holiness”? Is just indicative of his age, or is it something more? Does it, perhaps, point to a less prudent faith on his part? Do you think the disparity between Owen’s faith and the faith of the church will come up again? What about the approach of sex by the society. Take these two quotes, run with it!
“We learned where to look for the sex magazines, or the diry pictures…. Some of these gave Owen THE SHIVERS. In those days, such pictures were disturbingly unclear…. And the women’s sex parts were often blurred by pubic hair – some of them had astonishingly more pubic hair than either Owen or I thought was possible – and their nipples were blocked from view by the censor’s black slashes. At first, we thought the slashes were actual instruments of torture – they struck us as even more menacing than real nudity. The nudity was menacing – to a large extent, because the women weren’t pretty; or else their troubled, serious expressions judged their own nakedness severely.” (155)
“Since her death, Owen had hinted that the strongest force compelling him to attend Gravesend Academy – namely my mother’s insistence – was gone. Those rooms allowed us to imagine what we might become – if not exactly boarders…, we would still harbor such secrets, such barely restrained messiness, such lusts, eve, as these poor residents of Waterhouse Hall. It was our lives in the near future that we were searching for when we searched those rooms, and therefore it was shrewd of Owen that he made us take our time.
It was in a room on the third floor that Owen discovered the prophylactics. […] The examination of the bettleskin was a solemn occasion; it was the nonlubricated kind…and with some difficuly and occasional pain, we took turns putting the thing on our tiny penises. This part of our lives in the near future was especially hard for us to imagine; but I realize now that the ritual we enacted in Potter’s daring room also had the significance of religious rebellion for Owen Meany – it was but one more affront to the Catholics whom he had, in his own words, ESCAPED.” (157-159)
- In the Twitter discussion, Care thoughtfully brought up the different pronunciations of Gravesend: Graves-end or Grave-send. I have been saying Grave-send, but I wonder what this potentially means. Any thoughts?
- What do you think about Johnny’s role as Joseph?
I – Joseph – had nothing to do, nothing to say, nothing to learn. (167)
- Armlessness doesn’t really seem to come up in this chapter, but rather the opposite. Owen insists that his arms are free when he is cast as baby Jesus and it is his pointing finger in the Christmas Carol that is part of his truly frightening. Did you notice this? Did I miss any armlessness in this chapter?
- There is so much connecting Owen to Jesus. Other than the obvious, when Owen is playing Jesus in the play, but also in the way so many people willingly listen to him. Then he actually blesses Mary Beth Baird. For example:
“‘She should do nothing?’ the Rev. Mr. Wiggin asked Owen. The rector, like one of the teachers in the temple, appeared “amazed.” This is how the teachers in the temple are described – in their response to the Boy Jesus: ‘All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.'” (171)
- We begin to see more of older Johnny. Any thoughts on the differences between adult Johnny and young Johnny?
- page 179: OWEN KILLS SOMETHING ELSE WITH A BALL. ?!
- On pg 185, Johnny interacts with Mrs. Meany for the first time. What do you think of this scene?
- Do you think there is significance to the Flying Yankee? Read the scene again on page 186.
- The chapter ends with Owen taking over the part of the Ghost of Christmas Future, frightening everyone in the audience. Discuss!
Whew! Comment, comment, comment!