Owen Meany Discussion 2 – The Little Lord Jesus

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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!

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13 thoughts on “Owen Meany Discussion 2 – The Little Lord Jesus

  1. WHEW! oh my, this post gives me THE SHIVERS. (and I dont’ think I have the same page 179 – is it when the cowardly mailman resigns?)
    Yes, we are told at first the Owen is irresistible, especially to women who want to coo and fondle and touch the little guy. and as he gets older, he starts to realize his magnetic power, methinks. This section is ALL about how Owen needs to be in control and flexes his might. (opposite of armlessness! I didn’t think this until you said it, but yea.) But, Owen can’t control his parents totally nor his rx to them. Even if they seem to obey his every order. I agreed with Johnny when he discusses that Owen is mean to his parents and I want to know what the UNSPEAKABLE OUTRAGE was. Young Johnny is so pliable and un-opinionated while old Johnny becomes more like his Grandmother – a bit of a snob, must talk commentary on the state of the world, etc. I think Irving is almost heavy-handed in the symbolism? Gravesend as a word is a bit morbid, don’t you think? and Owen Meany – I could over analyze this name to death.

  2. I haven’t read this book, but just wanted to stop by and wish you a happy summer, happy reading and a happy Monday. I’ve been in some kind of a slump, and haven’t been blogging or blog-touring as much as I wanted the past month.

    Oh – I noticed you are reading Maus. I read that one around New Year, and loved it (if one can use such a word for such a story).

    Louise

  3. Clearly, I need to re-read Owen Meany because all I remember of the Christmas pageant episode is laughing so hard my stomach hurt. There was something so hilariously true about the way John Irving presented it.

  4. “…we thought the slashes were actual instruments of torture…” LOL!

    I always thought the armadillo’s armlessness was symbolic of Owen’s feelings about his accidental killing of Johnny’s Mom — it was Owen’s arm that killed her, so the removal of the arm~adillo’s arms was Owen’s way of trying to make amends and admit culpability.

    The pointing finger part in the nativity play was another arm example — maybe arms/hands in this novel represent sin and guilt, which are very much part of the religious canon, too.

    I can’t wait to read tomorrow’s installment!

  5. You’ve definitely sold me on this book. I’ve been thinking about it for my IRL face to face book club but wanted to make sure there was plenty to talk about. I just kind of skimmed through because I didn’t want to happen on any spoilers, but it definitely seems there will be plenty to discuss!

    Enjoy!

  6. i’m not participating in the challenge, but wanted to add that i saw john irving at radio city a few summers ago (with jk rowling and stephen king) and they each did a reading. irving was WONDERFUL–he did the angel portion of APFOM…hilarious. 🙂 just wanted to add my (irrelevant) 2 cents.

  7. I have this in my stack to re-read… but I don’t think I’ll get to it before the book is due. However, fascinating reading your thoughts!

  8. hello guys, well im loooking a for a very descriptive passgae in the book… where you can see how irving portays his syntax, structural organization and theme… any ideas or if you would like to help?

  9. Guys if you haven’t read this book yet, read it, please!This book changed my view of life. It gave me a meaning to my life. Owen Meany is my best imaginary hero, he is a miracle 🙂

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