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Symbols In Owen Meany and Interpretations

Of course, with any novel such as Owen Meany, there are plenty of symbols that are relevant to the story. Some are more obvious than other. Here are some that I think are important and what I think they mean.

The Red Dress-
It seems to be symbolic because of the association people have with the color red. Red expresses something hidden, something sultry or somewhat passionate, red being the color for love, especially in roses. Of course, the red in Owen Meany symbolizes Tabitha's departure from what her life normally is, a quiet, peaceful, predictable existence in a small town. But with the red, Tabitha is outgoing, sexy and daring, hence her singing and affair with her hometown pastor, Pastor Merril.

This is the symbol which Irving beats to death in the story. There is so much foreshadowing that the ending may not be much of a surprise anymore to the careful reader. Still, the lack of arms shows up in lots of places, Watahantowet's armless totem, the dressmaker dummy, the armadillo that Owen mutilates and of course, the statue of Mary Magdalene. There may be more, but those are the most obvious.


The Armadillo
The armadillo is one of the symbols that is used to represent the motif of armlessness. But I think that it means a little more than that. It is the only one of the presents that any of Tabitha's "beaus" gave to Johnny that he kept. Obviously this is because he really likes Dan and has accepted him into the family. I think the armadillo represents Dan's inherent tendency to understand Johnny and be more of a father to him than his real father ever was or ever could be.

The Wedding Present
The gift Owen made for Tabitha and Dan for their wedding day is as symbolic as it is foreshadowing. It foreshadows the death of Tabitha as Johnny says later and it also symbolizes how connected Owen's life is with granite, gravestones and death in general. Owen's association with granite appears later, in the pedestal for the remade statue of Mary Magdalene and in his own tombstone.

The Granite Saw
The granite saw that the Meany Granite Quarry uses too make monuments to sell. It represents how Johnny feels detached from the world, from his peers and from his generation. The cutting off of his finger causes him to lose sight of what his generation during Vietnam was fighting over and why Owen wanted to be a part of it. Johnny's loss of his finger via the "diamond wheel" isolates him and keeps him from ever thinking of his life in the same way again.

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