Learning from a Friend
Regardless of whether the celebrated author, John Irving, was asked about Owen Meany’s reality; and regardless of how he must have answered his interviewers, it is clear to the reader that the author’s main concern in A Prayer for Owen Meany is to learn from his friend and impart the teaching. Meany is a beloved friend, even though he is not Jesus Christ – the great teacher of faith. But, Meany is good enough for Wheelwright. After all, like many great people, Meany was the butt of jokes, but he was also gifted in many ways. People were attracted to Meany, which is the very reason for the friend attending to his best friend in Irving’s novel – longer than the four gospels put together!
Irving teaches the reader that it is nobility itself to learn from a special friend. Perhaps Meany is more special now that he has passed away, leaving all special lessons of his life for Wheelwright to incorporate into his own. After all, Wheelwright did not tell Meany’s story while the latter was alive. The death of Meany may therefore be considered the greatest lesson for Wheelwright to learn. The fact that Wheelwright did not reflect on Meany’s life while the latter was alive is another lesson for the reader to learn, i.e. another lesson from a friend. Generally preoccupied with their own selves – humans tend to learn from the dead ones. Since Irving’s novel is about leading a friend to faith, it is essential to remember that even many of the prophets of God were not reflected upon until they died and made it into the Bible with their short stories. The fact that Meany was allowed to play baby Jesus is another reason why Wheelwright wants to understand his friend better. As a matter of fact, Wheelwright wants to reflect upon and thereby learn from a friend who was ordinary like himself, yet granted special privileges. Of course, it is perfectly understandable why privileged people are lessons for their friends. It is human nature, after all, to seek greatness and honor.
Wheelwright seems to have realized his faith fully upon Meany’s death. Undoubtedly, however, Meany had been teaching faith to him all along. When Wheelwright was attracted to Hester, he believed his attraction was incestuous lust, whilst second guessing himself; but when Meany admits his own attraction for her, Wheelwright is sure that she is not right for him. In this way, Meany becomes a model of faith for Wheelwright. After his death, Meany becomes a model for Irving’s readers as well – all of whom are expected to learn from Wheelwright’s friend.
Wheelwright is focusing on his friend because he misses him. Some of the lessons imparted by Meany are painful indeed; for example, the time he sawed off his own finger – a near suicidal gesture. Still, Wheelwright expresses nothing but love for the departed soul. By reflecting on his friend’s weaknesses as well as gifts of character; in fact, the very act of focusing on his friend by remembering both good and bad times he enjoyed – Wheelwright is making an expression of love. After all, the most important lesson of a friend has got to be love, regardless of the faith that the friend nurtures. In Irving’s novel, therefore, the friend can be considered synonymous with faith and with love.
Irving, J. A Prayer for Owen Meany. New York: William Morrow, 1989.