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Suspense Examples In A Prayer For Owen Meany

1515 words - 7 pages

Different Ways John Irving Creates Suspense in A Prayer for Owen Meany

In John Irving's novel titled, A Prayer for Owen Meany, suspenseful events are of abundance, and there are multiple ways the author creates this suspense. Among these methods of creating suspense, four that stand out are the use of setting, the pace of the story, the involvement of mysteries to be solved, and the ability of the reader to easily identify and sympathize with the protagonist. By placing a character in a gloomy or solitary place, uncomfortable feelings are created, which append to the suspense. Pace and structure of the story also play into the foundation of suspense, as shorter sentences and stronger, ...view middle of the document...

Under these conditions many people become anxious, and because of these uneasy feelings that one may encounter, when a character is subjected to these conditions, the reader may become apprehensive, which leads to the formation of suspense. When Dan Needham shuts John Wheelwright in the secret passageway while both are in a drunken stupor, a high level of suspense is created. The description of the secret passageway adds to the suspense of the scene, "The passageway was dark; yet I could discern the scurrying of spiders. The cobwebs were dense…I groped for the light switch and couldn't find it. I didn't want to touch those dark objects on the shelves without seeing what they were…" (Irving 516-517). By recounting unpleasant conditions in the setting such as darkness and spider webs, suspense is created by giving readers an uneasy feeling.
In addition to the use of horrid circumstances in the setting, John Irving uses pacing of the story to create suspense. By creating a faster pace, readers read with more anticipation to see what happens next. To create a more rapidly moving pace, the writer may use shorter sentences or solely dialogue in the tense moments. When Owen is about to cut off John's finger so he can avoid going to Vietnam, the text mainly consists of their dialogue, and does not contain a significant amount of information being told to the reader from the narrator to slow down the suspense. Also, as part of the pacing of the story, strong, short, descriptive verbs and adjectives influence the level of suspense created, as well as the emphasis on certain words. Such strong wording of the events unfolding will keep the reader intrigued, and keep the pages turning. Returning to the description of the secret passageway, "‘Cut it out Dan!' I cried. I could hear him laughing. I reached out into the blackness. My hand found one of the shelves; I felt along the shelf, passing through cobwebs, in the direction of the door. That was when I put my hand on something awful. It felt springy, alive – I imagined a nest of newly born rats! – and I stepped backward and screamed." (517). Using a certain pace, faster than usual, is a method used by John Irving to help create suspense in A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Another important technique used by Irving is the use of ongoing mystery for a long duration of time. Throughout a major portion of the book, one may continually ask "When and how will Owen Meany die?" and "Who is John Wheelwright's real father?" When the events that answer these questions finally reveal themselves, the reader is in a state of suspense, wanting to know the answers. Also, the repetition of raising such mysteries plays an important part in creating suspense. There are many places where it is revealed that Owen Meany knows how and when he will die, but the reader is unaware, as well as the main character, other than the fact that Owen presumes he will die a hero in Vietnam. When the fateful day arrives, Owen is not fighting the...

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