Owen’s weightlessness, which forms the opening and closing motif of the book, symbolizes the way that one’s flaws or deficiencies actually can be used for good. Throughout the story, John is fixated on Owen’s extraordinary lightness and his seeming vulnerability to every minor force, even the meager strength of his young peers. Owen’s weakness is deceptive, however. He cannot be budged from any ideological stance; his will is like the heavy granite he mines and refines in the family business. Moreover, the conclusion of the book suggests that Owen’s weightlessness was merely a sign of his formidable mission and his election by God. His lightness doesn’t stop him from orchestrating enormous feats of strength, from picking up a whole car and carrying it up a flight of stairs to prying up a solid marble statue and depositing it on an auditorium stage. Of course, Owen himself never touched the car—the basketball team did all the work—nor did he dislodge the statue without a great deal of specialized equipment, but he was the primary force behind these efforts. He transcends his physical limitations by wielding other means of carrying out his objectives. Thus he refuses to let his disadvantage dictate his life, determined to fulfill his ambition by force of will. He trusts in God to help him where his own means fall short; the novel implies that God intervened when he was being tested for the Army’s height and weight requirements (“Since when do you weigh one hundred pounds?” John later asks him in disbelief). In the novel’s climax, Owen’s diminutive size endears him to the frightened Vietnamese children, who quickly follow his orders to get down on the ground, and allows Owen to rise high out of John’s hands with the deadly grenade, sacrificing himself to save everyone else.
Weightlessness Quotes in A Prayer for Owen Meany
When we held Owen Meany above our heads, when we passed him back and forth—so effortlessly—we believed that Owen weighed nothing at all. We did not realize that there were forces beyond our play. Now I know they were the forces that contributed to our illusion of Owen's weightlessness; they were the forces we didn’t have the faith to feel, they were the forces we failed to believe in—and they were also lifting up Owen Meany, taking him out of our hands.
O God—please give him back! I shall keep asking You.