Marxist Criticism on "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

Topics: Social class, Marxism, Family Pages: 7 (2654 words) Published: April 10, 2013
The Marxist literary criticism according to the Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary theory describes that a novel should unmask or accentuate a more whole understanding of a community. Marxist criticism analyzes ways in which a human is formed and socialized through manufactured views of reality and truth. (Fish, Tom) The novel A Prayer for Owen Meany is a good example of underlying patterns and manufactured views of reality and truth. If we examine John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany through a Marxist lens we can see that Harriet looks at the people around her according to class power and social standing. Harriet recognizes her role within the community as a result of her position. When explaining the Meany’s position in society she said; “Let me say…everyone in Owen Meany’s family” (Irving, John 6) Harriet married a shoe salesman with the name Wheelwright who had a well-established last name in their community. Once her husband passed away, she sold the factory for a large sum and kept the last name for herself, her daughter and grandson as she knew her social standing would not waiver in the community. Her ancestors rode on the Mayflower as part of the first families that populated the United States, they were of high standing and Harriet strived to rejoin the ranking they once had. Harriet, in this time, had moved up in social standing from the child of a founding family to having married into a powerful family in the community which brought her pride toward her abilities. This demonstrates the class mobility throughout Gravesend to be a caste system. It is a caste system because throughout generations of Harriet’s family she was born middle to upper class, to secure her upper class standing, she married an upper class shoe salesman. Harriet and her family own the only other large brick building on the main street of Gravesend other than the inn. This shows that Harriet belongs in the base bourgeoisie where people flaunt their wealth, become very powerful and own unique homes. “My grandmother glowered, but she would not raise her hands; she made herself listen…” (Irving 134) The community looked to Harriet as their model for ideal morals and behaviours. She showed many members of the community the superstructure that they should exhibit (Hertzel, Kassidy): a culture where it is not right to have the voice that Owen had and that each person knows their role in their community just as she did. Harriet understood that she needed to be strong when hearing the baseball game during her daughter’s funeral to show her peers that things would become more bearable and that things will move forward. Harriet’s determination to accept the sound of the baseball game shows her comfort in her social status as a pillar of Gravesend. “I was a poor student; and even though my grandmother could very well have afforded the tuition, I was destined to stay at Gravesend High School—until my mother married someone on the academy faculty and he legally adopted me. Faculty children—faculty brats, we were called could automatically attend the academy” (Irving, 24)

However well off the Wheelwrights were; Harriet stated that she would not pay John’s Gravesend Academy tuition. Even though she was happy to have a grandson, because her daughter had him out of wedlock, she did not consider him to be as high standing as herself and therefore he didn’t deserve to enter Gravesend Academy through a scholarship as Owen did. John’s only other way to enter Gravesend Academy without a scholarship would have been if his mother had married a member of the faculty and granted a place automatically. When Tabitha has John, Harriet looks down upon her but eventually her opinion evolves. “My aunt manifests only the most occasional vestige of her old interest in who my actual father is or was; last Christmas, in sawyer depot, she managed to get me alone for a second and she said, “Do you still not know? You can tell me. I’ll bet you know!...

Cited: Fish, Tom. "Marxist Criticism."UCumberlands. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.
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