At first glance the life of the main character of Irving Stone’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany seems to consist of a collection of haphazardly assembled childhood memories. However, under closer inspection, a logical pattern emerges. All the main events in Owen Meany’s short life involved sacrifices to fate. At times, it even seemed like he was being called upon by a divine being to blindly perform undesirable but necessary deeds that no one else had the unquestioning faith or sheer bravery for. The fact that Owen didn’t realize how his actions would follow a larger pattern until after he performed them did not diminish the importance of his eventual decisions. Strangely enough, all of these sacrifices to fate share certain odd similarities such as the idea of armlessness and an immediate pain which later contribute to the greater good. Combined, these coinciding events create an intricate web that can only be explained by the existence of some higher power.
The first sacrifice to fate in Owen Meany’s tragic life occurred during a Sunday afternoon baseball game. While he was at bat, Owen’s arms were suddenly flooded with a superhuman energy that allowed his tiny body to hit the baseball with enough force to kill John’s mother. Owen was forced to give up not only the woman who was even closer to him than his mother but also his innocence of death. However, because of the comic absurdity of the whole situation, it seems impossible for this event not to have been part of a larger divine pattern. The “angel of death” that Owen thought he saw on Tabitha’s bedside a few weeks earlier was not the first sign of this emerging design. For years John had been agonizing over the unknown identity of his father. Owen repeatedly assured him that eventually god would tell John who his father was. Though Owen’s unfortunate hit seemed unbearably tragic at the time, it was necessary in order for John to trick his father into thinking he was seeing Tabitha’s ghost and then identify himself. In a way, Owen’s conviction that Tabitha’s death was not a random occurrence was justified. Though Owen knew there was a larger pattern behind everything, he was still overcome by grief at John’s mother’s death. He later took the claws out of John’s armadillo in order to demonstrate his hopelessness as god’s chosen instrument.
Though the baseball game was a momentous occurrence, it was nothing compared to what Owen would be called upon to do next. Years later, when Owen was a senior at Gravesend Academy he infuriated the headmaster by telling the boy’s basketball team to drag one of the teacher’s cars on the stage. In the headmaster’s struggle to secretly get the car back down, he injured his back, broke the car, and managed to mortify himself in front of the entire school. Though Owen wasn’t directly implicated, it was obvious that only he had the ingenuity to think up something like this. When the principal thought up some trivial excuse to have him expelled, Owen was forced to sacrifice his future for a seemingly childish prank. However, Owens actions ended up having a positive impact on everyone else attending Gravesend Academy. After realizing the school’s continued support for Owen, the headmaster realized his own popularity and resigned. Once again, only Owen understood the deeper meaning behind his actions. The day after being expelled, he cut the hands off a statue of Mary Magdalene and stapled it onto the stage. Again, Owen wanted to show the world the full extent of his commitment to god. The armless statue that so filled the school with awe may have been Owen’s attempt to come to terms with the hopelessness resulting from being an instrument of fate. In a way, gestures such as these were merely a prelude; a preparation for the day when he would have to turn this idea of armlessness from a figurative concept to a physical reality.
As time wore on, Owen’s part in the grand scheme of things got bigger and bigger. He later ended up sacrificing a future at Harvard in order to help his best friend pass college and sacrificing his friends finger so he wouldn’t have to fight in Vietnam. His sacrifices steadily grew until the climatic moment when in order to save a group of Vietnamese children’s lives he was forced to give the ultimate forfeit- his life. While he throwing a grenade out the window to avoid it going off inside and killing a group of children, Owen ended up blowing off his hands and giving up his life. By now, it seemed certain that a higher power had planned out Owen’s life. His skill at throwing a basketball in under three seconds; his apparently weightless body; his shrill childish voice; the two phrases he just happened to know in Vietnamese, and his foreknowledge that he would die could not possibly all have been coincidences.
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 truth is that most of us will ever be as certain as rector Wiggin or as skeptical as Mr. Merril. In a way, John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany is a study of human psychology. The parallel events in it are like a test to see how much proof must be furnished in order for doubt to finally be extinguished. It is the one thing that Owen Meany was missing throughout his life and the one thing that for everyone else can never be fully forgotten.