A Prayer for Owen Meany

John’s Mother / Tabitha Wheelwright Character Analysis

John’s mother, who is killed by Owen Meany’s foul ball when the boys were just eleven years old. She had a gifted singing voice and a stunning figure of which her sister, Martha, was always jealous. John compares Tabitha to a cat, saying she looked perfectly touchable in theory, but rarely wished to be touched, by nature. She was very sweet-tempered, which made it difficult for anyone to stay angry at her for long. She wielded this to her advantage when she defied her parents’ wishes by not going to college and becoming pregnant from an illicit affair. Refusing to bow to scornful opinion, she raised her son proudly and never apologized for her choices. She firmly denied John’s father, Rev. Lewis Merrill, any say in their son’s life. She believed in doing what made her happy, and secretly performed in a dinner club in Boston once a week under the stage name “The Lady in Red.” When she met her future husband, Dan Needham, on the train, she trusted her judgment absolutely and knew she would marry him. She was very loving as well as being naturally lovable, and she showed enormous care and affection for Owen Meany, John’s best friend, who lacked for the same love and opportunities that John always had.

John’s Mother / Tabitha Wheelwright Quotes in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The A Prayer for Owen Meany quotes below are all either spoken by John’s Mother / Tabitha Wheelwright or refer to John’s Mother / Tabitha 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

It made [Owen] furious when I suggested that anything was an “accident”—especially anything that had happened to him; on the subject of predestination, Owen Meany would accuse Calvin of bad faith. There were no accidents; there was a reason for that baseball—just as there was a reason for Owen being small, and a reason for his voice. In Owen’s opinion, he had INTERRUPTED AN ANGEL, he had DISTURBED AN ANGEL AT WORK, he had UPSET THE SCHEME OF THINGS.

Related Characters: John Wheelwright (speaker), Owen Meany (speaker), John’s Mother / Tabitha Wheelwright
Related Symbols: The Baseball, The Voice
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
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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:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

Because he’d wished my mother dead, my father said, God had punished him; God had taught Pastor Merrill not to trifle with prayer. And I suppose that was why it had been so difficult for Mr. Merrill to pray for Owen Meany—and why he had invited us all to offer up our silent prayers to Owen, instead of speaking out himself. And he called Mr. and Mrs. Meany “superstitious”! Look at the world: look at how many of our peerless leaders presume to tell us that they know what God wants! It’s not God who’s fucked up, it’s the screamers who say they believe in Him and who claim to pursue their ends in His holy name!

Related Symbols: The Baseball
Page Number: 554
Explanation and Analysis:
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John’s Mother / Tabitha Wheelwright Character Timeline in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The timeline below shows where the character John’s Mother / Tabitha 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
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...never to forget Owen Meany, an extremely small boy with a broken voice who killed John’s mother and is the reason John believes in God. He admits that he is not zealously... (full context)
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...Gravesend’s founding families, “Meany” is nowhere to be found, but Wheelwright is foremost. Wheelwright was John’s mother ’s name, and she never gave it up. John kept her name as well, since... (full context)
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After John’s mother died, Owen and John talked about the unsolved mystery of his father. They skipped rocks... (full context)
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John’s mother took the train to Boston once a week and stayed overnight for an early morning... (full context)
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Although Martha and others frowned on John’s mother ’s conduct, she was never bothered by their disapproval. She happily called her son her... (full context)
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John occasionally resented his mother’s weekly absences. John’s mother only canceled her trips when he was seriously ill or injured, until she stopped going... (full context)
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...both joined the Episcopal Church after leaving the Congregational Church and the Catholic Church, respectively. John’s mother insisted on switching churches after she married an Episcopalian, John’s stepfather—whom she also met on... (full context)
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...came from a working-class family, and was wary of going to school with the rich. John’s mother promises to take care of everything for him, but Owen worries about how he will... (full context)
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Gravesend Academy was an extremely old institution, founded in 1781. John’s mother secretly visited Owen’s parents to convince them to allow Owen to go there—Owen could smell... (full context)
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Owen had a crush on John’s mother , who couldn’t resist touching Owen. Owen tells John that she has the best breasts... (full context)
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Owen and John were eleven when John’s mother died. It was summer, and they were growing bored with baseball. Their team was badly... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Armadillo
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John’s mother’s name was Tabitha, but everyone called her Tabby. Only her mother refused to call her Tabby, although Rev.... (full context)
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...once told John, “YOUR MOTHER IS SO SEXY, I KEEP FORGETTING SHE’S ANYBODY’S MOTHER.” Indeed, Tabitha’s sex appeal gave most people the wrong idea about her. Everyone assumed she was all... (full context)
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Tabitha mostly dressed modestly, never exposing much flesh or wearing dresses tight around the hips, but... (full context)
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The Wheelwrights and Lydia were eating dinner one evening after Tabitha returned from her weekly overnight stay in Boston when Tabitha announced that she had met... (full context)
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Harriet is horrified to hear that the man Tabitha met is an actor. Tabitha explains that he was coming to town to interview for... (full context)
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All of Tabitha’s past dates were young men who didn’t have a clue about what to do with... (full context)
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John and Tabitha drive after Owen, and find him pushing his bike up the hill, wet and cold... (full context)
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Tabitha stops driving to give Owen a hug and a kiss, and she promises him that... (full context)
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...be thinking about the same things while trying to fall asleep after that awful tragedy: Tabitha, Dan, and Dan’s armadillo. And he knew what poor Owen must have looked like while... (full context)
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The morning after Tabitha died, Owen deposits a few big boxes at their door. The boxes contain Owen’s entire... (full context)
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...Dan explains that the amputation is a symbol of how Owen feels, having accidentally killed Tabitha with his own two hands and ripped John’s mother away from him. He and John... (full context)
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...believes that everything Owen did for him more than outweighs everything Owen took from him—even John’s mother . (full context)
Chapter 3: The Angel
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Tabitha kept a dressmaker’s dummy next to her bed. She was a talented seamstress who made... (full context)
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John and Owen liked to play dress-up with the dummy and Tabitha’s clothes. She was practical, and only made clothes in black and white, easy to mix... (full context)
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...the Gravesend Academy and the members of the town’s amateur theatre company, the Gravesend Players. Tabitha loved to sing but was too shy to act—she only acted in one of Dan’s... (full context)
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...the Wheelwrights’ when he woke up feeling very ill with a fever. He went to Tabitha’s bedroom, and came back to John’s room to tell him he saw an angel by... (full context)
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...believed was real. He became irritated when Owen later suggested that the baseball that killed Tabitha was “fated”; John believes that his mother’s death was purely an accident, while Owen thinks... (full context)
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Later that same night, Harriet came into Tabitha’s room to scold her for leaving the light and the water on in the bathroom... (full context)
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Although Tabitha and Dan were clearly in love from the start, she waited four years to agree... (full context)
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Harriet frequently prodded Tabitha about her surprising hesitation to marry Dan, which Tabitha insisted was not based on any... (full context)
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John worried that maybe he was the problem—that Dan wouldn’t marry Tabitha until she told him who John’s father was—but Owen argued that Dan would never have... (full context)
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There were no religious objections to Tabitha and Dan’s marriage, either. Both churches approved of the couple and wanted them for their... (full context)
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...athletes. John didn’t really understand why they had to leave Merrill’s church for Wiggin’s, but Tabitha implied that Dan cared more about which church they went to than she did. They... (full context)
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...“what that Tabby Wheelwright deserve[d]—her in her white dress.” It even began to hail while Tabitha and Dan were leaving. Tabitha told Owen to come along so they could drop him... (full context)
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...like “Owen’s batting for you, Johnny!” and “You don’t want to see her, Johnny.” At Tabitha’s funeral, he cried openly, mourning both Tabitha and his team, which mostly disbanded after the... (full context)
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...Works, fired her, and her home was vandalized. She was compelled to move away. At Tabitha’s funeral, she didn’t sit with her son and the rest of the team—unlike her son,... (full context)
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Buzzy Thurston was not present at Tabitha’s funeral—although he “should have been,” since he was the player who brought Owen up to... (full context)
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Chief Pike was also at Tabitha’s funeral, still on the lookout for the stolen ball. Pike stared at Owen throughout the... (full context)
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...Meany sits in his truck. He tells John that he will keep his promise to Tabitha not to interfere if Owen wants to go to Gravesend Academy. Although John didn’t realize... (full context)
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John and Hester walk into the cemetery to find Owen praying over Tabitha’s grave. When John calls his name, Owen thinks God is speaking to him. When John... (full context)
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...those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” strike John as false—he is still grieving Tabitha’s death, and has yet to feel “comforted.” Like John, Owen didn’t believe that pain and... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Little Lord Jesus 
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John spends the Christmas after Tabitha’s death at home. Harriet argues that if the whole family is together at Sawyer Depot... (full context)
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Back in the Christmas season of 1953, the evenings seem very long without Tabitha. Dan complains bitterly about how his amateurs are making a mess of A Christmas Carol.... (full context)
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...garden. The young couple with the baby attended Sagamore’s burial, along with the neighborhood children, Tabitha, and even Harriet. Owen wanted the mourners to hold candles, and Rev. Merrill and his... (full context)
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...his hat. In Owen’s room, he finds Mrs. Meany sitting on Owen’s bed, staring at Tabitha’s dummy. Without looking at John, she says, “I’m sorry about your poor mother.” Walking down... (full context)
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...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 upsetting it would be... (full context)
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...Harriet asks whether the Meanys have ever tried to fix Owen’s voice. John says that Tabitha suggested Owen visit her voice teacher for a consultation, but Owen would never go. He... (full context)
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...comes from the granite dust. She then asks whether Owen ever kept the information about Tabitha’s voice teacher. John lies and says no, wanting to explore this information privately. (full context)
Chapter 5: The Ghost of the Future 
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...but Owen insists they wouldn’t enjoy it. “Anything you say, Owen,” Dan tells him. Like Tabitha, he understands that Owen is not shown affection at home. (full context)
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...pageant, Owen arrives at Harriet’s house layered in winter clothes, including a “lucky” scarf that Tabitha once gave him after she learned that he didn’t own one. He coughs horribly while... (full context)
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...mouth to make him flush. Owen is furious; the last person to kiss him was Tabitha. When Barb lays him in the manger, it becomes apparent to her and John that... (full context)
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...cast party—planning 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... (full context)
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...same people in the crowd must have also been watching the baseball game the day Tabitha was killed. Mr. Chickering is there, and Chief Pike. John remembers his mother had been... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Voice 
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...lack of effort, which is ironic because she never worked in her life, never told Tabitha to work, and never gave John any chores. She thought watching television demanded too little... (full context)
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...may not have initially planned to teach at Gravesend Academy until his retirement, but losing Tabitha led him to dedicate himself to the education of “the whole boy,” which is what... (full context)
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...faithfully decides to stay behind with John and help him with his homework—as he promised Tabitha he would. “I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU,” he tells John. (full context)
Chapter 7: The Dream 
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...him. John doesn’t realize that Owen purposefully wants to go to the upscale boutique where Tabitha once bought her infamous red dress. (full context)
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Once Owen and John get to the store, they see that Tabitha had lied about it burning down. Owen saw the store in the newspaper one day... (full context)
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Next Owen takes John to the office of Tabitha’s singing teacher, Graham McSwiney, who gave Owen an appointment to have his voice analyzed. They... (full context)
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...can only say that it likely won’t change in the future. Owen introduces John as Tabitha’s son, and shows McSwiney her picture. He explains that he got her the gig when... (full context)
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McSwiney thought Tabitha was charming, but careless and unambitious—she preferred simple, popular songs and didn’t practice. Her voice... (full context)
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...and seeing how the audience members react. But they don’t want to tell Dan about Tabitha’s secret life in case he doesn’t already know, and John doesn’t want him to be... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Finger 
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...folk singer look and a pretty voice like her mother (although not as pretty as Tabitha’s). Unlike Tabitha, Hester didn’t believe in learning to sing, but simply voiced what was inside... (full context)
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...with palm trees, but can’t afford to go anywhere so far. They walk to visit Tabitha’s grave. When they get back, Hester is asleep on the couch. She kisses Owen softly... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Shot
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Merrill then confesses that he has no faith at all—he lost it when Tabitha died. He had been at the game, Tabitha had waved to him, and he had... (full context)
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Tabitha and Merrill had an affair after she asked him to come to The Orange Grove... (full context)
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...Merrill, he doesn’t know what to tell Dan. He asks Dan why he insisted that Tabitha change churches before getting married. Dan says he thought that John had insisted on changing... (full context)
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...he doesn’t believe that John’s father was jealously trying to derail their marriage—he truly wanted Tabitha to be sure about her husband, and truly wanted his son to know who he... (full context)
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...flower beds under the stained-glass windows of the church. In the dusk, it looks like Tabitha is hovering above the flowers, her missing head and feet consumed by shadows. He takes... (full context)
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Merrill comes outside, spots Tabitha’s dummy, and falls to his knees, clutching the baseball to his heart. He drops the... (full context)
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...apartment to get the granite doorstep Owen carved as a wedding gift for him and Tabitha. He also tells Dan his plans, and says to him, “You’re the best father a... (full context)
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...to Mr. Meany and Mrs. Meany. The recessional hymn is the same one played at Tabitha’s funeral. It’s another summer funeral, and they can still hear the children nearby playing baseball.... (full context)