Friday, July 31, 2009

A Prayer for #owenmeany Discussion Post

So, chapter six. How's everyone liking the book so far? I really got into this one. I tried to make notes as I was reading, and I'll attempt to make sense of them now. Some are just thoughts, some are observations, and some are questions I had while I was reading. Feel free to comment below!

First thoughts: when I went searching for images, I found the three covers pictured above. My book has the third cover (with the dressmaker's dummy), but I thought it was really interesting that all three highlight a different theme or motif from the novel. Which cover do you have? Do you have a preference? It seemed like the armadillo and the idea of being armless weren't mentioned in the chapter, but it's possible I missed it. They did talk a lot more about the quarry and Owen's visions of his own grave marker.

One of the biggest themes from this chapter (at least, the one that spoke to me the most as a teacher) was education. Harriet Wheelwright has some very decided views of reading and writing:
She was a passionate reader, and she thought that reading was one of the noblest efforts of all; in contrast, she found writing to be a great waste of time -- a childish self-indulgence, even messier than finger-painting -- but she admired reading, which she believed was an unselfish activity that provided information and inspiration. She must have thought it a pity that some poor fools had to waste their lives writing in order for us to have sufficient reading material. (261)
I find it interesting to read about reading and writing. It's very meta for a character in a book (a narrator, no less!) to be pondering the importance - the worthiness - of reading and writing. It's not a major idea in this chapter, but as a reader it struck me, especially when compared to Harriet's almost-immediate love for television. Any thoughts?

Back to the education theme. Noah and Simon are being "saved" by being shipped off to Gravesend Academy, while poor Hester is sent to public school: "The idea that she was not in need of rescuing would surely have insulted her; and the notion that my aunt and uncle might have considered her beyond saving would have hurt her in another way" (269). Up until now, everything we've heard about Hester has been hearsay (from her brothers) or through Johnny's perspective (which we know is skewed, at least as regards Hester). Is she really that bad? It seems to me that she would have gotten a lot more out of a private school education than her brothers did - look how hard she worked to move up a grade, just to prove herself. And what really happened with that boatman in the Caribbean? For that matter, what really happened with Owen after the dance? Given all the religious symbolism, I'm inclined to view her as a sympathetic Magdalene figure, but I haven't read ahead so that may not be the case.

Other things I found interesting:

* Owen's continued anti-Catholicism: fearing the nuns, finding them "unnatural" and calling them "penguins;" using The Voice to change the school's fish on Fridays policy; his contempt for Catholic iconography and relics (while at the same time collecting "relics" of his own - the dummy, the armadillo claws, etc)

* The search for Johnny's father - any guesses as to who he might be? Will Johnny ever find out?

* The relationship between Owen and Harriet - they bond over LIBERACE (?!) and she takes on Tabby's role by getting him properly attired for the Academy

* Owen as a teacher - he stays back a year to help Johnny with his school work and even helps him learn to enjoy reading. He also calls being an English major "easy" (it is!) and I'm assuming that's what helped Johnny decide to become an English teacher.

* When Johnny talks about teaching, he mentions Thomas Hardy. Owen says that Hardy tells you everything you need to know: Tess is doomed, fate is against her. Johnny also talks about foreshadowing re: Hardy and we've seen it used a few times in the book so far. Owen says, "After I'm gone" (319), and when Johnny thinks about him in Canada, it's in past tense. So, I'm assuming something happens to Owen (he did see his own headstone, after all) and have pretty much resigned myself to bawling my eyes out by the end of this book. Anyone else?

* The idea of Owen as a prophet - he had that vision at the Christmas play, he knows that the new headmaster is going to be making big changes - is Owen just really intuitive, or is it something more?

* Owen as the Big Man on Campus - he's the one getting dates (but he'll only double, so you'd better bring a friend for Johnny!), he's influencing the hiring decisions at the Academy through The Voice, and he's not afraid to bite a big dude's toes off in a fight. Oh, and he'll sell you a fake draft card so you can buy beer. Does anyone else find this Owen strange and intimidating?

Anything I forgot? Mention it below! Let's get this discussion goin'!


Ali said...

OK, I finally got this from the library, picking up where I left off before, so I'm starting chapter 6 now. Hoping to catch up by Monday!

Anonymous said...

I'm on the last chapter at this point, and it's interesting to read your questions with the knowledge of those extra chapters.

I'm not sure what Owen is supposed to be, other than a future hero. By the end of 8, you have more info on The Dream, and it's fairly clear what is going to happen. Well, not that clear, but one can make an even more educated guess at that point.

Looking back at Chapter 6 Owen from the end of Chapter 8 is also interesting. Owen's character undergoes a big shift (I think) in Chapter 8...less focused on school and more focused on the army. It's weird.

I'd forgotten that Thomas Hardy bit...although that, too, plays into the future. There's almost too much foreshadowing going on this book. It's like every single detail ties into something else...I'm sure you could find so much more with re-readings of the book. Not sure I'm up to that, though.

Ali said...

Finished chapter 6 this morning. My favorite chapter so far, I think. The switches to the protag as an adult are now working for me--where before I just found it annoying, now the contrast between Owen and Johnny as teens, and Johnny teaching teens, is a powerful indication of the influence Owen had and still has on him. The fact that Owen got himself held back and is considering a less prestigious college to stay with Johnny seems pretty significant, too--as if he's sacrificing his own life for Johnny's.

Care said...

I love your questions here - and since I've finished the books, I won't answer any of them! But yes, I really liked Hester and her wanting to antagonize her parents. I do agree that the foreshadowing has spotlights "look at this!" I haven't read any Hardy so I can't speak to that.
The love of reading but pity for writers made me laugh.

Veens said...

I didn't know you were going to discuss this one :-(

I need to get this book! :)

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I haven't read the book, but I've followed along your discussions on the blogs and on twitter. Are you planning to discuss another book this way?

jessi said...

I kind of dropped the ball on the Owen Meany discussions. Oops. :(

Dawn - if you want to read a book like this (Twitter is a great tool for book discussion, I think), I'd be up for it. And I promise to do better next time. :)