The main theme of A Prayer for Owen Meany is religious faith–specifically, the relationship between faith and doubt in a world in which there is no obvious evidence for the existence of God. John writes on the first page of the book that Owen Meany is the reason that he is a Christian, and ensuing story is presented as an explanation of the reason why. Though the plot is complicated, the explanation for Owen’s effect on Johnny’s faith is extremely simple; Owen’s life is a miracle and offers miraculous and almost undeniable evidence of God’s existence.
John struggles throughout the book to resolve his faith with his skepticism and doubt, but at the end he doesn’t need to make a choice between the two extremes. In the book, he states “it’s not god who’s fucked up, it’s the screamers who say they believe in him and who claim to pursue their ends in his holy name. ” John remains troubled, because Owen’s sacrificial death seems painfully unfair. Johnny is left with the problem of accepting God’s will. In the end, he invests more faith in Owen himself than he invests in God, and he concludes the novel by asking God to allow Owen’s resurrection and return to Earth.
The most important symbol in A Prayer for Owen Meany is, for the title’s sake, Owen; Owen embodies the relationship between the natural and the supernatural world. With his tiny, dwarfed body, his oddly glowing skin, and his nasal voice, Owen is not entirely of this world. His appearance affirms his bizarre spiritual life, in which he seems to be in direct communication with God. On the other hand, Owen is very much of this world; he grows up in a granite quarry, and his name is “Meany”, a name not exactly received by the Gravesend people.
For all his weirdness, Owen in many ways represents the spiritual condition of humankind; the difference between others and Owen is that he is aware of being an instrument of God. His faith converges on his knowledge of his own heroic death, for which he prepares all his life. Owen believes that everything happens under the will of God — he continues to believe after hitting a foul ball at a Little League game which in turn accidentally kills John’s mother. Owen Meany believed that “coincidence” was a stupid, shallow refuge sought by stupid, shallow people who were unable to accept the fact that their lives were shaped by a terrifying and awesome design – more powerful and unstoppable than the Yankee Flyer. ” The recurring pattern in Owen’s life was necessary in order to show the ongoing conflict between human skepticism and blind belief. With every sacrifice Owen made, it became more obvious that there must be a divine force at work.
The parallels become even more apparent after a second reading. However, after all this, even John finds that he still has some doubt. No matter how much proof, there always remains a sliver of doubt. The parallel events in the novel are like a test to see how much proof must be furnished in order for doubt to finally be extinguished. (Quote from Final Page) By the end of the book, John began to realize that there was a faith behind Owen Meany, as John remembered back to his Sunday school days where Owen was passed from person to person. When we held Owen Meany above our heads, when we passed him back and forth–so effortlessly–we believed that Owen weighed nothing at all.
We did not realize that there were forces beyond our play. Now I know they were the forces that contributed to our illusion of Owen’s weightlessness; they were the forces we didn’t have the faith to believe in–and they were also lifting up Owen Meany, taking him out of our hands. On the back of the book, you once again read the quote that started the book: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. ” Owen Meany had enough effect on John, as well as the reader, to change your idea of faith or coincidence like nothing ever changed.