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 of the novel is quite complicated, the explanation for Owen's effect on John's faith is extremely simple: Owen's life is a miracle--he has supernatural visions and dreams, he believes that he acts as God's instrument, and he has divine foreknowledge of his own death--and offers miraculous and almost undeniable evidence of God's existence. The basic thematic shape of the novel is that of a tension being lifted, rather than a tension being resolved: John struggles throughout the book to resolve his religious faith with his skepticism and doubt, but at the novel's end he is not required to make a choice between the two extremes: Owen's miraculous death obviates the need to make a choice, because it offers evidence that banishes doubt. Yet John remains troubled, because Owen's sacrificial death (he dies to save the lives of a group of Vietnamese children) seems painfully unjust. John 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--he receives two visitations from Owen beyond the grave--and he concludes the novel by making Owen something of a messiah, asking God to allow Owen's resurrection and return to Earth.
Of course, the thematic development of the novel is somewhat more complicated and less neat than that, and the presentation of religion in the book is continually undercut with irony and the constant presence of sex. Further the thematic development of the book is also inconsistent and indirect, in part because we are never able to gain a secure purchase in John's mind: he is such a reticent narrator... [continues]
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