A Prayer for Owen Meany

The Voice Symbol Icon

Owen’s exceptional voice, made unforgettable by the ALL-CAPS formatting of his speech, symbolizes that he is chosen by God. John Irving’s special treatment of Owen’s speech in the book has been compared to the red-lettering editions of the Bible, in which the words spoken by Jesus are printed in striking red ink, while the rest of the words are printed in black. Owen’s voice is thus unmistakably divine, as he himself claims throughout the book. He believes that his voice was made permanently high and childlike by God, suggesting lasting innocence and moral purity and allowing him to communicate his good intentions to the frightened children when he carries out his climactic self-sacrifice. After Owen’s death, when divine forces save John from falling down the stairs and also reveal his long-sought-after birth father to him, it is Owen’s unmistakable voice speaking to him from the beyond that proves to John beyond a doubt that God is at work.

As a child, Owen sometimes abstains from using his voice, self-conscious of how unusually high and childlike it sounds. Ironically, as Owen gets older and his peers’ voices all begin to deepen with puberty, Owen seems to grow into his unchanging, squeaky voice. Rather than avoid drawing attention to his peculiar speech, he makes it central to his adolescent identity, becoming The Voice of Gravesend Academy in the school newspaper. The period when his voice did not change with puberty seems to have confirmed to him the special role God intended for him and his voice to play. If his earlier reluctance to speak represented his doubts and unease about God’s design, then his later determination to raise his voice represents his faith and commitment to God’s path for him.

The Voice Quotes in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The A Prayer for Owen Meany quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Voice. 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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Chapter 7 Quotes

I remember the independent study that Owen Meany was conducting with the Rev. Lewis Merrill in the winter term of l962. I wonder if those cheeseburgers in the Reagan administration are familiar with Isaiah 5:20. As The Voice would say: “WOE UNTO THOSE THAT CALL EVIL GOOD AND GOOD EVIL.”

Related Characters: John Wheelwright (speaker), Owen Meany (speaker), Rev. Lewis Merrill
Related Symbols: The Voice
Page Number: 402
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

“YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND,” said Owen Meany—his voice breaking a little. I assumed it was the telephone; I thought we had a bad connection.

Related Characters: John Wheelwright (speaker), Owen Meany (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Voice
Page Number: 589
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Voice Symbol Timeline in A Prayer for Owen Meany

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Voice 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
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...he is “doomed” 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... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
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Owen also had an underdeveloped or damaged voice, perhaps a side effect of breathing in so much quarry dust since birth. He had... (full context)
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Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
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...rarely caught it, and his hand was too small to throw it. However, his unique voice made his complaints entertaining to listen to. John now believes Owen’s voice motivated the Sunday... (full context)
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“PUT ME DOWN! YOU ASSHOLES!” Owen would shout in his falsetto voice. But the class ignored him, and would resort to tickling him to pry him away... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
...secret passageway to a separate basement. John purposefully scared Owen down there, and Owen’s peculiar voice made his fear very memorable. Harriet was very disturbed by Owen’s shrieks from the passageway—she... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
...older and began losing her memory, she never forgot the disturbing sound of Owen’s piercing voice. (full context)
Chapter 2: The Armadillo
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...he is reluctant to announce himself and give a bad first impression with his freak voice. So he waits quietly to be noticed by John and the Eastmans, who are naturally... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Angel
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
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...Owen woke up and mistook Harriet for another deadly angel, letting out such a terrible scream that he awoke the household and the whole neighborhood. Harriet cried out in response, and... (full context)
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...lungs, being extremely fond of the song. For once, John dreaded the sound of Owen’s voice. (full context)
Chapter 4: The Little Lord Jesus 
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
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...calm ones throughout the show. Owen believes in taking things seriously, and hates that his voice always wins laughter rather than respect when he plays the Announcing Angel. (full context)
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Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Gender and Sexuality Theme Icon
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...and Owen to scare, 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.... (full context)
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Germaine, overhearing, counters that Owen’s voice comes from the Devil. Harriet says both ideas are nonsense—Owen’s voice surely comes from the... (full context)
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...be happier to have a nonspeaking part, so he won’t have to use his laughable voice. Like the Christ Child, he has to project a staggering presence—to convey his knowledge of... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Voice 
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
Powerlessness Theme Icon
...a nickname. Owen writes essays for the school newspaper, The Grave, under the pen name The Voice . His articles are always published in capital letters, which is part of his plan... (full context)
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Gravesend students embrace The Voice as a new institution—Owen is their voice, speaking up for their causes, asserting their dignity in an environment where they are belittled... (full context)
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...everybody!” Simon claims—but the couple never say how they spend their evening. After the dance, The Voice denounces both the crass bragging of boys claiming to have taken advantage of their dates,... (full context)
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...job are given subscriptions to The Grave, and they are also given private meetings with The Voice . Several of the faculty object to this, but the faculty adviser to The Grave,... (full context)
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...ARE BETTER WRITERS THAN THE GUYS WHO WROTE THE BIBLE DOESN’T NECESSARILY MAKE THEM RIGHT!” The Voice tells the school to just hire Merrill as the new minister instead of searching for... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
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...voting age was still twenty-one, at the time. Randy White begins to talk back to The Voice during the morning assemblies, and he personally replaces Mr. Early as the newspaper advisor. Dan... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Dream 
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
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...office of Tabitha’s singing teacher, Graham McSwiney, who gave Owen an appointment to have his voice analyzed. They wait outside for the previous lesson to finish while John absorbs the fact... (full context)
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Owen refuses, saying, “IF GOD GAVE ME THIS VOICE, HE HAD A REASON.” John asks McSwiney why Owen’s voice hasn’t changed with puberty, and... (full context)
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...have been saved by the faculty, and he stops speaking in class or writing as The Voice . He says he’s focusing on writing his valedictorian speech, when it’ll be too late... (full context)
Chapter 9: The Shot
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
Christianity and Faith Theme Icon
...that guides his hand to the light switch and pulls him forward. He hears Owen’s voice saying, “DON’T BE AFRAID. NOTHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU.” When Dan opens... (full context)
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...that Owen should go see a doctor—there wasn’t any good reason not to fix his voice. In Owen’s case, there really was a reason. John tried to tell Dan and Rev.... (full context)
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...and opens his mouth without speaking, choking on his words. Finally he speaks in Owen’s voice: “LOOK IN THE THIRD DRAWER, RIGHT-HAND SIDE.” Merrill opens the desk drawer and out falls... (full context)
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...who his father was, and John isn’t surprised that God spoke to him in Owen’s voice. Merrill denies that God was working through him; he suggests that he had finally found... (full context)
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...could he have been so light?” John can’t speak—he doesn’t want to hear his own voice, only Owen’s. When Mary Beth speaks to him, he knows Owen is gone. (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
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...haven’t seen each other since Christmas. “YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND,” Owen tells him, and his voice breaks a bit. When John lands in Phoenix, he notices the tall palm trees at... (full context)
Fate and Predestination Theme Icon
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...interrupts, telling the boy he likes his bayonet sheath. The family is frozen by Owen’s voice. The boy calls Owen a twit and asks him what’s wrong with his voice. Owen... (full context)
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Dick kicks in the door, holding a grenade. A boy screams and the others begin to cry. Owen speaks to them in Vietnamese: “DOONG SA…DON’T BE... (full context)