Sunday, April 06, 2008

Owen Meany - Chapter 9

If I were a book, I would be A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving.

We're taking a chapter a week, posted on Sunday mornings. Click for the posts on Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, Chapter Four, Chapter Five, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven and Chapter Eight.

(Take the Book Quiz yourself at the Blue Pyramid.)

So. We can see how John, if not mentally unstable, certainly comes by his issues honestly.

He is physically disfigured, although he certainly seems pragmatic about that. The missing finger doesn't appear to pose much of an inconvenience to him in his present-day life; indeed, he seems to enjoy it some of the time, pointing at things and sticking it up his nose.

When he defends his "nasty habit" of tamping his pipe with the stump of his finger, saying "And why not? My finger is a perfect fit; we handicapped people must learn to make the best of our mutilations and disfigurements," I don't believe that he is calling himself mutilated or disfigured at all, but rather wryly acknowledging how insignificant his "handicap" in fact is, compared to the suffering and true mutilation he has seen Owen and others undergo.

I think his virginity is much more significant a "scar" than the missing finger. "What has happened to me has simply neutered me. I just don't feel like 'practicing.'" I'm not sure, though, why he has been "neutered" by his experiences. Anyone have a theory?

His anger, on the other hand, is perfectly understandable. He describes his consumption of news--particularly, newspapers reporting on American politics--as nothing short of an addiction. The news obsesses him, it enrages him, it affects with his relationships, and it sometimes threatens to interfere with his teaching.

On the one hand, you'd like for him to be able to let go of the anger, the visceral reaction to the politics that even moving to Canada did not permit him to leave behind.

On the other hand, who can blame him? The political reality, both in 1987 and today, is intolerable. And John has seen just how tragic the results of "society's commonplace blend of the murderous and the trivial" can be.

And what of Owen?

I actually can't figure out what to say about Owen right now, so I'll leave it to you.


Bob April 06, 2008 10:46 AM  

I agree with your assessment of John, including the fact that he doesn't see himself as (physically, anyway) mutilated or disfigured. My friend who suffered the same injury [don't operate a lathe and drink, is all I'll say about that], doesn't really even think about the missing digit.


Yeah, that is a tough one. I think Lisa pretty much pegged Owen in her comment on last week's chapter. He had THE DREAM (and the vision of his gravestone during the performance of A Christmas Carol),and, instead of just accepting the dream and living his life, actively tried to create the scenario about which he dreamed.

Would it have happened, though, if he hadn't done his best to orchestrate it?

Also, I would like to point out that, before reading the final chapter, I commented to Jen that "there are palm trees in Arizona".

pidomon April 06, 2008 11:18 AM  

Well as far as John being "neutered" looking back on the book I think John thinks he is/feels like he is a bystander or observer instead of an active participant in life.
Especially when Owen and Hester hook up at the Dance and that this feeling also leads to some of his anger issues.

On the other hand I also got the feeling the new teacher in the last chapter and John would hook up somehow after the book was over. That she was his "Hester" that was within his reach.

And what would have happened to Owen if his parents had not told him about his "virgin" birth.

If they hadn't said anything I don't think Owen would have tried to create the vision that he saw.
But when you believe you are one of two people who were immaculately conceived in this history of the planet I can understand fulfilling a vision even if it meant your death.

lisa April 06, 2008 1:30 PM  

I can't figure out if Dick would have targeted the children if Owen had never been there, or if Owen's interaction with him set him to action. Dick already had been, after all, hanging out at the airport with weapons, and certainly, to say the least, he had some issues regarding Vietnam. But then, he seemed to be targeting Owen and John, not the children. I think we're supposed to wonder that, because through the sunglasses, we can't know who it was that dropped his jaw.

I think John's neuterment has to do with his desire for Hester being unfulfilled, mixed with the way his relationship with his most intimate friend was severed. Hester herself never had another close relationship because Owen was the "love of her life". Owen had that effect on those closest to him--nothing or no one can ever compare to the impact he had on them. Also what Pidomon said about John feeling like an observer, not a participant in life.

I never understood why Owen said it was sacrilege for his parents to be at the pageant though.

So was Owen's mother a virgin?

John really is his father, no? With his belief/unbelief and his lack of courage (living as an outsider, unable to make decisions). Right to the last line of the book, where he prays for Owen to be given back, which is what Rev. Mr. Merill did at the funeral.

About the newspapers and the politics. There was talk in earlier chapters about where is the outrage now (80's)? Where are the protests, etc. Jen mentioned that in an earlier post, referring to today. I think Owen said something about it being the draft that caused people to take action. That without that, people wouldn't care. That may be why it's different now than in the 60's. People care, but aren't taking the same kind of action, because we don't feel personally threatened or that our own lives are at stake. Just morally outraged. But what do we do with that, besides blog and vote? What is John doing with his outrage? Reading articles and annoying people. He's not doing anything, but he holds disdain for society for not doing anything either.

But then, I don't remember if it was John or Owen that was arguing that the protests may have actually prolonged the war, by making the supporters of the war feel more righteous.

Humans are complicated, no?

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