A Prayer for Owen Meany

John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham Character Analysis

John’s stepfather and Tabitha’s husband. Dan met Tabitha on the train from Boston to Gravesend when he was on his way to interview at Gravesend Academy for a teaching position. He teaches history and theater to high schoolers and directs the local amateur theatre troupe, the Gravesend Players. His family background is as upper-crust as the Wheelwrights’, only more high-powered; however, he cut ties with his family because they disapprove of him for squandering his Harvard education on a teaching career and marrying a woman with an illegitimate child. Above all, he is a kind and compassionate man. He understands children and adolescents and shows his students more empathy than the rest of the faculty at Gravesend. He is a wonderful father to John, and he tries his best to help Owen Meany, whom he cares for deeply as well. After Tabitha’s premature death, he never remarries. He inspires John to become a teacher.

John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham Quotes in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The A Prayer for Owen Meany quotes below are all either spoken by John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham or refer to John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham. 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 2 Quotes

“Your friend is most original,” Dan Needham said, with the greatest respect. “Don’t you see, Johnny? If he could, he would cut off his hands for you—that’s how it makes him feel, to have touched that baseball bat, to have swung that bat with those results. It’s how we all feel—you and me and Owen. We’ve lost a part of ourselves.” And Dan picked up the wrecked armadillo and began to experiment with it on my night table, trying—as I had tried—to find a position that allowed the beast to stand, or even to lie down, with any semblance of comfort or dignity; it was quite impossible…

And so Dan and I became quite emotional, while we struggled to find a way to make the armadillo’s appearance acceptable—but that was the point, Dan concluded: there was no way that any or all of this was acceptable. What had happened was unacceptable! Yet we still had to live with it.

Related Characters: John Wheelwright (speaker), John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham (speaker), Owen Meany
Related Symbols: The Baseball, Armless Totems
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 5 Quotes

“He sounds a little sicker than I had in mind,” Dan told me on our way back to town. “I may have to play the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come myself. Or maybe—if Owen’s too sick—maybe you can take the part.”

But I was just a Joseph; I felt that Owen Meany had already chosen me for the only part I could play.

Related Characters: John Wheelwright (speaker), John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham (speaker), Owen Meany
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7 Quotes

As always, with Owen Meany, there was the necessary consideration of the symbols involved. He had removed Mary Magdalene’s arms, above the elbows, so that her gesture of beseeching the assembled audience would seem all the more an act of supplication—and all the more helpless. Dan and I both knew that Owen suffered an obsession with armlessness—this was Watahantowet’s familiar totem, this was what Owen had done to my armadillo. My mother's dressmaker’s dummy was armless, too.

But neither Dan nor I was prepared for Mary Magdalene being headless—for her head was cleanly sawed or chiseled or blasted off.

Related Symbols: Armless Totems
Page Number: 409
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

Dan Needham, occasionally, stares at me that way, too. How could he possibly think I could “forgive and forget”? There is too much forgetting. When we schoolteachers worry that our students have no sense of history, isn’t it what people forget that worries us?

Related Characters: John Wheelwright (speaker), John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham
Page Number: 532
Explanation and Analysis:
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John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham Character Timeline in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The timeline below shows where the character John’s Stepfather / Dan Needham 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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...ill or injured, until she stopped going altogether when he was ten and she married John’s stepfather . (full context)
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...the Catholic Church, respectively. John’s mother insisted on switching churches after she married an Episcopalian, John’s stepfather —whom she also met on the train. The Congregational pastor, the Rev. Lewis Merrill, was... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Armadillo
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...to keep, but she readily tells John the story of how she met his stepfather, Dan Needham, on the same train. Dan loves telling the story with equal enthusiasm, and John... (full context)
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...He also graduated from Harvard, which pleases Harriet. When she learns that his name is Daniel Needham, a fine old New England name, she finally relaxes. Just then, Dan himself arrives... (full context)
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...were young men who didn’t have a clue about what to do with a six-year-old. Dan was unlike the other men because he was gawky and far from handsome; he also... (full context)
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...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 riding... (full context)
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...at their door. The boxes contain Owen’s entire baseball card collection, his most prized possession. Dan says that Owen gave the beloved cards to John as a gesture of apology, trust,... (full context)
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...longer hold itself upright. John is quite upset that Owen has mutilated the animal, until Dan explains that the amputation is a symbol of how Owen feels, having accidentally killed Tabitha... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Angel
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...The dummy was designed to match Tabitha’s physical measurements exactly, and at night John and Dan frequently mistook it for Tabitha standing next to the bed. (full context)
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...white and black, and then was unable to return when the store had a fire. Dan suggested donating it to his costume collection, but Tabitha thought that the dress would be... (full context)
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Dan became the director for both the students at the Gravesend Academy and the members of... (full context)
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...and crashing into her dresser. Owen would frequently recall Harriet “wailing like a banshee,” which Dan later told John referred to a female spirit in Irish folklore whose wailing foreshadowed a... (full context)
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Although Tabitha and Dan were clearly in love from the start, she waited four years to agree to marry... (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 specific obstacle but just “to be sure.”... (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... (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 congregations. John... (full context)
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...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 were married in... (full context)
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...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 off at... (full context)
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...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 decides to stay with Dan, who... (full context)
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...name, Owen thinks God is speaking to him. When John and Hester tell Owen that Dan has gone back to his apartment in the Gravesend Academy dormitory for the night, Owen... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Little Lord Jesus 
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...loss will be too painfully apparent. John and Owen occupy themselves over break by using Dan’s master dorm key to infiltrate the students’ rooms at the school. (full context)
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Dan is busy rehearsing with the Gravesend Players for their annual production of A Christmas Carol.... (full context)
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...Owen and John play at her house, so they would rather spend their days at Dan’s dorm. The students are all gone, as are most of the faculty occupants. Only Mr.... (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. Harriet’s... (full context)
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...house. They’re there on the day when Mr. Morrison, the mailman, tells Harriet to tell Dan that he’s quitting the show. Owen tries to talk him into staying on, explaining why... (full context)
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...rest of the household stands behind her, rapt. Mr. Morrison finally leaves, and Owen calls Dan to tell him what happened. He volunteers himself as Morrison’s replacement. Owen couldn’t be happier... (full context)
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Dan is initially skeptical, but Owen convinces him to let him rehearse that afternoon and test... (full context)
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...unexpected sight of Owen sends him jumping backward into the hall. “Speak of the Devil,” Dan says. Mr. Fish starts humming a Christmas carol to himself “as the little Lord Jesus... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Ghost of the Future 
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...can even orchestrate it as he wills. He is a scene-stealer in A Christmas Carol. Dan is concerned, however, by the number of small children who burst into tears when Owen... (full context)
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...has made in the part. John wonders if Owen’s parents know about his impressive performance. Dan asks Owen if he would like to invite his parents to the show, but Owen... (full context)
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...eyes are darkened with eyeliner. But his cold is getting worse, and he’s coughing frequently. Dan tells John that he might have to play Owen’s part if Owen is too sick,... (full context)
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...the way there, who doesn’t normally go to church but wants to see Owen’s performance. Dan joins them, and they arrive at Christ Church. (full context)
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...that he must come see her before he’s allowed back into the church. John tells Dan everything that happened between Owen and Barb, worried that Owen will shun the Episcopalians as... (full context)
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Dan tells Barb that he doesn’t want to have to tell the Vestry members the story... (full context)
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John wishes he was back at Sawyer Depot for Christmas Eve. This year, he and Dan are going to the final production of A Christmas Carol, then the cast party—planning to... (full context)
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...sexual stereotypes—basically all the classics. She and her husband try out for opposite-gender roles in Dan’s plays. (full context)
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...He regains consciousness by jumping to his feet and screaming, then backing off the stage. Dan and John find him sobbing over his makeup table, burning with fever. Rev. Merrill comes... (full context)
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...that Owen thinks he saw. John feels upset to be missing the cast party at Dan’s apartment. Harriet’s house is silent. Then John hears Germaine whispering in the secret passageway, praying... (full context)
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...agrees, saying that she and Lydia thought they heard a scream right before she died. Dan protests, saying that Owen was simply feverish and prone to an overactive imagination. Germaine is... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Voice 
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John complains to Dan about feeling left out of this ridiculous phenomenon. Dan is a good listener, patient and... (full context)
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...still thinks it’s absurd for Owen, who thinks he’s so smart, to adore Liberace, but Dan reminds him that Owen is not worldly—he has never even left Gravesend. Dan dismisses a... (full context)
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...John continue trying to solve the mystery of John’s father by watching the crowds at Dan’s shows and searching their memories for who was at the baseball game. They decide that... (full context)
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...because he had already learned to drive on the quarry roads in his father’s trucks. Dan teaches John to drive that summer in the mornings before his daily rehearsals for Julius... (full context)
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...and the students rather than the alumni and the trustees, who prioritize fundraising above education. Dan argues to the faculty that Owen really loves Gravesend Academy, and his constructive critique is... (full context)
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...Voice during the morning assemblies, and he personally replaces Mr. Early as the newspaper advisor. Dan and John warn Owen to be careful. (full context)
Chapter 7: The Dream 
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...Keeling’s family to their private island in Georgian Bay. He also looks forward to visiting Dan in Gravesend, and seeing one of his summer school productions. He doesn’t watch The Gravesend... (full context)
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In 1961, John and Owen still scanned the audiences at Dan’s shows to find John’s father. Now they imagine that his father must have been to... (full context)
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...White says that such disrespect to school parents cannot be tolerated, but Mr. Early and Dan argue that Owen broke no rules by propositioning Mitzy. White wants Owen expelled, but Dan... (full context)
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Owen is put on probation for the rest of the winter term, as Dan suggested. But he isn’t grateful to have been saved by the faculty, and he stops... (full context)
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...daily meetings to serve his “GRANDSTANDING.” While the team moves the car, Owen parks at Dan’s dorm to avoid suspicion, then goes to work. A janitor finds the car onstage when... (full context)
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When Dan gets White’s call and sees Owen’s car outside his dorm, he realizes who is probably... (full context)
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...their conversation is confidential, he confesses. Merrill promises to steer White away from suspecting him. Dan tells Owen he doesn’t want to know anything about what happened. The headmaster has no... (full context)
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Dan protests that confiscating wallets is illegal, but White insists he’s saving the school from the... (full context)
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...says that he’ll make her even more proud. He asks her to tell John and Dan to be sure to come to the next morning assembly. Worried about what he could... (full context)
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John tells his friends to tell everyone to come to the meeting early, and Dan tells his friends on the faculty to come to the meeting, “If you only go... (full context)
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Merrill tells Dan that the head of St. Michael’s Church and School is Father Findley. He doesn’t know... (full context)
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Walking back to the Main Academy Building, Dan and John see Randy kissing his wife, Sam, goodbye. Randy expects to lead a triumphant... (full context)
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Dan and John wonder how Owen passed the height and weight requirement. Owen proudly informs them... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Finger 
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...still wants to know who John’s father is, but all John confides, teasing her, is, “Dan Needham is the best father a boy could have.” He and Noah and Simon still... (full context)
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...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 do the... (full context)
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...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 up to... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Shot
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...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 last years in the house. They kept her... (full context)
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...she would hide from her maids. Eventually she had to go into the seniors’ home. Dan says that her preserved jellies are still in the secret passageway, and John goes to... (full context)
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...Owen’s voice saying, “DON’T BE AFRAID. NOTHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU.” When Dan opens the door, he sees that the roots of John’s hair have turned white. The... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...fix his voice. In Owen’s case, there really was a reason. John tried to tell Dan and Rev. Merrill about that reason, but they didn’t fully believe him. “I believe you,”... (full context)
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After John learns about Merrill, he doesn’t know what to tell Dan. He asks Dan why he insisted that Tabitha change churches before getting married. Dan says... (full context)
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Dan says he doesn’t believe that John’s father was jealously trying to derail their marriage—he truly... (full context)
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...with Harriet, and tells her where he plans to go next. Then he goes to Dan’s apartment to get the granite doorstep Owen carved as a wedding gift for him and... (full context)
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...of each other after this, when Merrill has his faith once more and John has Dan? John thinks that Merrill is a fraud for ignoring the real miracle of Owen Meany... (full context)
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...at their baseball game, even though they saw him in the audience of all of Dan’s plays. John was let down to learn that his father was “just another Joseph…just another... (full context)
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...Merrill, but he doesn’t care about him much. He hasn’t seen him since Owen’s funeral. Dan says he’s a great preacher now, without a trace of his former stutter. John sometimes... (full context)