A Prayer for Owen Meany

John’s Grandmother / Harriet Wheelwright Character Analysis

John’s grandmother. Harriet was widowed from a young age, but she took great satisfaction in managing her family and her house herself. She was descended from John Adams, and her family first came to America on the Mayflower. She married a Wheelwright, which was a very important family in Gravesend. She was a traditional puritanical New Englander and a highborn elitist who greatly minded her reputation, but she loved her daughters, Tabitha and Martha, and her grandchildren very much. She generously took in her longtime maid, Lydia, after Lydia lost her leg to cancer, and hired a pair of maids, Ethel and Germaine, to look after both her and Lydia. She also served as Owen Meany’s benefactor when he needed help purchasing a private school uniform and school supplies. She eventually became obsessed with television and died while channel surfing. She maintained her proud spirit until the end, demanding to be royally catered to.

John’s Grandmother / Harriet Wheelwright Quotes in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The A Prayer for Owen Meany quotes below are all either spoken by John’s Grandmother / Harriet Wheelwright or refer to John’s Grandmother / Harriet Wheelwright. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper Collins edition of A Prayer for Owen Meany published in 1989.
Chapter 3 Quotes

All those same crones, as black and hunchbacked as crows gathered around some roadkill—they came to the service as if to say: We acknowledge, O God, that Tabby Wheelwright was not allowed to get off scot-free.

Getting off “scot-free” was a cardinal crime in New Hampshire. And by the birdy alertness visible in the darting eyes of my grandmother’s crones, I could tell that—in their view—my mother had not escaped her just reward.

Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other A Prayer for Owen Meany quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Get the entire A Prayer for Owen Meany LitChart as a printable PDF.
A prayer for owen meany.pdf.medium

John’s Grandmother / Harriet Wheelwright Character Timeline in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The timeline below shows where the character John’s Grandmother / Harriet Wheelwright appears in A Prayer for Owen Meany. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Foul Ball
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
...of family, the Meanys. John’s family was matriarchal because his grandfather died young, leaving his grandmother to run the family. John’s grandmother rose to the challenge “grandly,” he recalls. She was... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...lumber business. He married John’s aunt, Martha. Owen Meany’s family was in the granite business. Harriet Wheelwright believed that lumber was a clean business and granite was dirty. Lumber was certainly... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
John was born in his grandmother Harriet’s grand old brick house. The house included a secret passageway to a separate basement.... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
John explains that Harriet, while snobbish, was also generous and noble. When her longtime maid, Lydia, had to have... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Armadillo
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
...thinking and corrected herself, saying she had just met a man whom she really liked. Harriet and Lydia are skeptical that she could already know how strongly she felt about this... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Harriet is horrified to hear that the man Tabitha met is an actor. Tabitha explains that... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...can meet his cousins when they come to Gravesend for Thanksgiving, but John says his grandmother gets upset having so many kids in the house. To make Owen feel better, John... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Angel
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
...who made her own clothes. She never had a real job, and lived off of Harriet’s generous allowance, but she saved a lot of money by bringing home clothes from nice... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Later that same night, Harriet came into Tabitha’s room to scold her for leaving the light and the water on... (full context)
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Harriet frequently prodded Tabitha about her surprising hesitation to marry Dan, which Tabitha insisted was not... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...sound of children nearby playing baseball. After the funeral, the Wheelwrights and Eastmans return to Harriet’s house, where Aunt Martha and Dan each invite John to move in with them. John... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
At the funeral at Harriet’s house, John’s cousins are subdued. Harriet is stoic, and Martha is overwhelmed by grief and... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Owen says he’ll keep the dummy with him, since Dan, John, and Harriet shouldn’t have it around to look at. Hester points out that he really shouldn’t be... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Little Lord Jesus 
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
John spends the Christmas after Tabitha’s death at home. Harriet argues that if the whole family is together at Sawyer Depot without Tabitha, her loss... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Harriet tends to get cranky when Owen and John play at her house, so they would... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...Dan complains bitterly about how his amateurs are making a mess of A Christmas Carol. Harriet’s neighbor Mr. Fish, who plays Scrooge, always complains about the ghosts. The worst is the... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...truck, headed for the young couple’s house. Mr. Fish decided to bury his dog in Harriet’s rose garden. The young couple with the baby attended Sagamore’s burial, along with the neighborhood... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...and she is young, extremely timid, and incredibly clumsy. In a generous and practical gesture, Harriet donates all of Tabitha’s clothes to Germaine after Tabitha dies, but she didn’t realize how... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...and they frequently do. She is superstitious, and Owen’s size and voice disturbs her. Once, Harriet asks whether the Meanys have ever tried to fix Owen’s voice. John says that Tabitha... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Germaine, overhearing, counters that Owen’s voice comes from the Devil. Harriet says both ideas are nonsense—Owen’s voice surely comes from the granite dust. She then asks... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
After that afternoon, the boys decide to return to playing at Harriet’s house. They’re there on the day when Mr. Morrison, the mailman, tells Harriet to tell... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Standing behind Owen, Harriet thinks that nothing is scarier than the future, or someone who knows it. The rest... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
...John already knows what Owen’s test will prove—he can see how unsettled Owen has made Harriet and the maids. Indeed, Dan reports that night that Owen was a stunning success, striking... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Ghost of the Future 
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
That Sunday, the day of the church Christmas pageant, Owen arrives at Harriet’s house layered in winter clothes, including a “lucky” scarf that Tabitha once gave him after... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...to occupy them for as much time as possible, so they won’t grieve Tabitha’s absence. Harriet almost refuses to join them at the show, since Lydia is sick and she doesn’t... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Merrill drives Owen home and drops John off at Harriet’s house. He seems to believe that Owen had an upsetting “vision,” but not the type... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Harriet imagines that Owen had somehow foreseen Lydia’s death and mistaken it for his own. Germaine... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Voice 
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Harriet always hated a lack of effort, which is ironic because she never worked in her... (full context)
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...Tarzan movies or biblical epics. Owen found the biblical epics “SACRILEGIOUS.” When the TV comes, Harriet watches it all day long, but her passion is born from contempt—commenting on the trashy... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Harriet and Owen both appreciate one show, at least—The Liberace Show, featuring the flamboyant piano prodigy... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...also believes it’s hard to be elderly. He tells John to have more empathy for Harriet, who has suffered many losses. (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Owen and Harriet bond over their love for Liberace and their disdain for everything else, and Harriet becomes... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Over Thanksgiving in 1954, the Eastmans come to Gravesend and see Harriet’s television. Simon likes everything, and Hester hates everything. Noah is in his first year at... (full context)
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Katherine reminds John of Harriet in a way—they both have a gift for sarcasm and diction. He thinks Harriet and... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...John and Owen finally start at Gravesend Academy, Owen looks especially sophisticated in the clothes Harriet had bought him in Boston. He isn’t scared of the bigger boys because he is... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...a fitted, short, plunging black dress to the dance, and Owen wears an elegant tuxedo Harriet had bought for him. Unlike the other boys, who have to escort their dates straight... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...proof he didn’t bring up aid for the contras with the King of Saudi Arabia. Harriet gave Owen a diary for Christmas in 1960—he called her his “BENEFACTOR.” That fall, Owen... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Dream 
Powerlessness Theme Icon
In 1966, there were 385,300 Americans in Vietnam, and John was by himself at Harriet’s house. In 1967, there were 485,600 Americans in Vietnam, and John himself threw up in... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...president himself. Whenever Owen got wind of such a bunch of bullshit, he would echo Harriet and declare: “THAT’S MADE FOR TELEVISION.” (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Owen refuses to talk to anybody afterwards, until he calls Harriet to apologize for letting her down. She says that he didn’t let her down, and... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Finger 
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...someone tells you that you have to make up your mind between Vietnam and Tanzania?” Harriet and Dan urge him to find a way to get out of going to Vietnam—to... (full context)
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
...hospital, John realizes that Owen doesn’t have any insurance. He tells the hospital to bill Harriet. When they get to Harriet’s house, she doesn’t believe that Owen could have fallen down... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...drive up to the Canadian border and look at the other side of the border. Harriet hosts a small going-away party before Owen reports to his training for the administrative branch.... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...could end, but they “talked like the war itself, going nowhere.” John sleeps over at Harriet’s and Dan’s to give Owen and Hester some privacy. Everyone plans to take the train... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Shot
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...Owen hasn’t left perfect silence behind him, however. John heard from him one night at Harriet’s old house, where John was staying with Dan. They were drinking and talking about Harriet’s... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Harriet also lost her hair and had to resort to wigs, which she would hide from... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Back in the present, it’s August and John is visiting Dan in Gravesend. Harriet left her house to Dan and John when she died, and Dan wants John to... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
Harriet’s decline at the seniors’ home was quick and painless; she died in her sleep two... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...that the government has given them $50,000, while John knows that the money came from Harriet. John goes into Owen’s bedroom and sees that Owen attached the severed arms from the... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...for Owen’s funeral. He hasn’t seen Hester since they watched Bobby Kennedy’s assassination together on Harriet’s television: “Television gives good disaster.” Owen didn’t have anything to say about it, for once;... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
John packs the diary with the rest of his things and heads to Harriet’s house to pick up some photographs and clothes. He has breakfast in the rose garden... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...expect Owen to rise and condemn them for coming to his funeral. Mr. Fish and Harriet sit behind them, with Alfred, Martha, and Simon. Noah is still abroad with the Peace... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...like to ask God to give us back Owen Meany…O God—I shall keep asking You!” Harriet cries at this. (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...wants to know who first influenced Hester. He also wrote about returning to Gravesend for Harriet’s funeral at the Congregational Church, performed by Merrill’s replacement. At Harriet’s old house, he was... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
On the 4th of July in 1968, John sits on the porch of Harriet’s house, waiting for the parade. He will go to the University of Massachusetts for his... (full context)