|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.14(w) x 6.84(h) x 0.97(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:March 2, 1942
Place of Birth:Exeter, New Hampshire
Education:B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967
Read an Excerpt
Garp's mother Jenny Fields, was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theater. This was shortly after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and people were being tolerant of soldiers, because suddenly everyone was a soldier, but jenny Fields was quite firm in her intolerance of the behavior of men in general and soldiers in particular. In the movie theater she had to move three times, but each time the soldier moved closer to her until she was sitting against the musty wall, her view of the newsreel almost blocked by some silly colonnade, and she resolved she would not get up and move again. The soldier moved once more and sat beside her.
jenny was twenty-two. She had dropped out of college almost as soon as she'd begun, but she had finished her nursing-school program at the head of her class and she enjoyed being a nurse. She was an athletic-looking young woman who always had high color in her cheeks; she had dark, glossy hair and what her mother called a mannish way of walking (she swung her arms), and her rump and hips were so slender and hard that, from behind, she resembled a young boy. In jenny's opinion, her breasts were too large; she thought the ostentation of her bust made her look "cheap and easy."
She was nothing of the kind. In fact, she had dropped out of college when she suspected that the chief purpose of her parents' sending her to Wellesley had been to have her dated by and eventually mated to some well-bred man. The recommendation of Wellesley had come from her older brothers, who had assured her parents that Wellesley women were not thought of loosely and were considered high in marriage potential. jenny felt that her education was merely a polite way to bide time, as if she were really a cow, being prepared only for the insertion of the device for artificial insemination.
Her declared major had been English literature, but when it seemed to her that her classmates were chiefly concerned with acquiring the sophistication and the poise to deal with men, she had no trouble leaving literature for nursing. She saw nursing as something that could be put into immediate practice, and its study had no ulterior motive that jenny could see (later she wrote, in her famous autobiography, that too many nurses put themselves on display for too many doctors; but then her nursing days were over).
She liked the simple, no-nonsense uniform; the blouse of the dress made less of her breasts; the shoes were comfortable, and suited to her fast pace of walking. When she was at the night desk, she could still read. She did not miss the young college men, who were sulky and disappointed if you wouldn't compromise yourself, and superior and aloof if you would. At the hospital she saw more soldiers and working boys than college men, and they were franker and less pretentious in their expectations; if you compromised yourself a little, they seemed at least grateful to see you again. Then, suddenly, everyone was a soldier-and full of the self-importance of college boys-and jenny Fields stopped having anything to do with men. "My mother," Garp wrote, "was a lone wolf."
What People are Saying About This
“The most powerful and profound novel about women written by a man in our generation . . . Like all extraordinary books, Garp defies synopsis. . . . A marvelous, important, permanent novel by a serious artist of remarkable powers.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“Nothing in contemporary fiction matches it. . . . Irving’s blend of gravity and play is unique, audacious, almost blasphemous. . . . Brilliant, funny, and consistently wise; a work of vast talent.”—The New Republic
“A wonderful novel, full of energy and art, at once funny and horrifying and heartbreaking.”—Washington Post
Reading Group Guide
1. In the preceding essay, John Irving writes about his frustration in trying to determine what The World According to Garp is about. He finally accepts his young son's conclusion: "The fear of death or the death of children—or of anyone you love." In your opinion, is this the most overt theme of the novel?
2. Feminism comes in many flavors in the novel. The most obvious, perhaps, are Jenny Field's straightforward brand of feminism, Ellen Jamesian's embittered, victimized type, and Roberta Muldoon's nurturing, female-embracing style. But are there other characters who portray less distinct, murkier shades of feminism? What is feminism in the lives of Helen Holm, Charlotte the prostitute, Mrs. Ralph, and other women in the novel? And what does feminism mean to Garp?
3. How does The World According to Garp ultimately assess the prospects of understanding between the sexes? Support your opinion with examples from the novel.
4. In the novel, we read about a variety of biographers' theories on why Garp stopped writing—and what motivated him to write again—albeit for a very short-lived time. Helen agreed that Garp's collision with his own mortality brought him back to his craft. If you were the biographer of T. S. Garp, what would your theory be?
5. Garp's vehemence against "political true believers" is a major force of the novel and he maintains that they are the sworn enemy of the artist. The Ellen Jamesians are a farcical portrayal of this notion. In your opinion, what is the relationship between art and politics—and is it possible for them to successfully coexist?
6. After the terrible accident in which Duncan is maimed, many pages pass before Walt's death is acknowledged to the reader. And then, it is given a tragic-comedic twist; Garp announces in an Alice Fletcher-like lisp that he "mish him." What was the effect of this narrative device on you? Was the sorrow intensified or assuaged?
7. The narrator's voice is ironically detached and almost flippant—even when delivering the most emotionally charged, heartbreaking moments in the novel. In what ways does the narrator contrast and play against the novel's dramatic elements? How is it similar—and different—from the voice of Garp?
8. People who have read and loved The World According to Garp consistently comment on the extraordinary ability of the novel to provoke laughter and tears simultaneously. Was this your experience as well? If so, how do you think this effect is achieved?
9. What is the significance of the meta-fiction—the stories within the story? How does Garp's "writing" voice compare to our perception of him as a character?
10. Over the last fifteen years The World According to Garp has entered the canon of literature. How do you think it is perceived now in comparison to when it was first published in the late '70s? Is the American moral center much different today than it was then? For example, despite Garp's and Helen's indiscretions, their relationship is still portrayed as loving and supportive. Do you think that today's social climate is as accepting of these kind of transgressions?
11. In his afterword, John Irving admits to having been "positively ashamed of how much lust was in the book. Indeed, every character in the story who indulges his or her lust is severely punished." How do you feel about that condemnation? Is the world an arguably more precarious place because of lust?
12. What do the peripheral characters contribute to the novel? Is there a common thread they share . . . Mrs. Ralph, the young hippie, Dean Bodger, Ernie Holm, "Old Tinch," the Fletchers?
13. The World According to Garp has been heralded as a literary masterpiece while at the same time enjoying phenomenal commercial successa rare feat for a novel. What are the elements of high literary merit in the novel? Likewise, what aspects of the book land it squarely into the mainstream consciousness? In your opinion, how is this balance achieved?
14. Have you read any other John Irving novels? If so, did you find any similarities between them in style or tone?