Prayer As A Symbol in Irving’s A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY In John Irving’s A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY there are many prominent symbols. Those of arm-less figures, water, and angels are a few of the more prominent ones but, there are also many symbols that are much more subtle than those few. The most prominent of the subtle symbols is that of prayer. Prayer, in an of itself, is an idea. But, in A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, Irving uses it to convey many more abstract concepts. “THE TROUBLE WITH CHURCH IS THE SERVICE.” Owen states. “A SERVICE IS CONDUCTED FOR A MASS AUDIENCE. JUST WHEN I START TO LIKE THE HYMN, EVERYONE PLOPS DOWN TO PRAY. JUST WHEN I START TO HEAR THE PRAYER, EVERYONE POPS UP TO SING (23).” In this passage prayer is viewed only as a part of the “hocus-pocus (21)” of church ceremony. It is thus representative both of Owen’s view of church formality and ceremony, and of the attitudes that both Owen and Johnny hold toward certain aspects of the church and its traditions. This becomes important on a larger scale when the reader recognizes the conflict that plagues both Johnny and Owen when it comes to religious issues. Johnny states this point clearly when he says, “I was baptized in the Congregational Church, and after some years of fraternity with the Episcopalian…I became rather weak in my religion: in my teens I attended a non-denomination church. Then I became an Anglican…(1).” These frequent internal religious conflicts showcase an even greater distaste of the ceremony of the church, which prayer, at least in this instance, is representative of. Prayer also becomes representative of the character of Owen Meany in several different ways. The prayer of the angel in the Christmas pageant is a wonderful example of this. “BE NOT AFRAID. FOR BEHOLD I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS OF A GREAT JOY WHICH WILL COME TO ALL THE PEOPLE; FOR TO YOU THIS DAY IS BORN IN THE CITY OF DAVID A SAVIOR, WHO IS CHRIST THE LORD….YOU WILL FIND A BABE WRAPPED IN SWADDLING CLOTHES AND LYING IN A MANGER (149).” Each of these allusions to Christ make this prayer, that Owen is forced to make as the angel in the pageant, an actual symbol of Owen himself. Which becomes important when the reader comes to realize the actuality of Own as likened to Jesus Christ as a savior, and as a person. Owen is, after all, the only character who can “FIT IN THE” proverbial “CRIB (165).” Johnny also realizes the importance of prayer as a symbol of Owen. He states; “I was always saying prayers for Owen Meany (616).” And by stating this Irving reinforces the fact that Johnny understand that prayer is his method of remembering Owen for who he was.
In conclusion, the reader realizes that prayer is an important, yet subtle, symbol in A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEAN. And as a symbol is allows a simple, yet accurate representation or complex ideas such as church uniformity and tradition, and also of complex characters and heroes such as Owen Meany.