John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" Chapter 1

Vocabulary study list for John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany" (Chapter 1).
definitions & notes only words
  1. levitate
    cause to rise in the air and float
    Given the biblical nature of her instructions to us: "to think very hard . . ." she might have imagined that by a supreme act of our combined and hardest thoughts we had succeeded in levitating Owen Meany.
  2. nonconformity
    failure to follow accepted standards of behavior
    He became a Puritan, and was thereafter "silenced by the ecclesiastical powers, for nonconformity."
  3. muggy
    hot or warm and humid
    It was a hot, muggy, summer day; the low-tide smell of the mud flats was more brinish and morbid than usual.
  4. heterodox
    characterized by departure from accepted standards
    Together with the famous Mrs. Hutchinson, the Rev. Mr. Wheelwright was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for disturbing "the civil peace"; in truth, he did nothing more seditious than offer some heterodox opinions regarding the locatio
  5. rummage
    search haphazardly
    But I skip a Sunday service now and then; I make no claims to be especially pious; I have a church- rummage faith--the kind that needs patching up every weekend.
  6. uniquely
    so as to be unique
    In Sunday school, when we held Owen up in the air--especially, in the air!--he protested so uniquely.
  7. dangle
    hang freely
    He dangled silently, and waited for someone to unhook him and put him down.
  8. translucent
    allowing light to pass through diffusely
    He was the color of a gravestone; light was both absorbed and reflected by his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appeared translucent at times--especially at his temples, where his blue veins showed through his skin (as though, in addition to his extraordinary size, there were other evidence that he was born too soon).
  9. dislodge
    remove or force from a position previously occupied
    Sometimes Owen grabbed hold of his chair the instant Mrs. Walker left the room; he'd cling like a bird to a swing in its cage, but he was easy to dislodge because he was ticklish.
  10. canine
    a dog
    The canine Sagamore was killed by a diaper truck, and I now believe that the gods of those troubled waters of that much-abused lake were responsible.
  11. zealot
    a fervent and even militant proponent of something
    I make no claims to have a life in Christ, or with Christ--and certainly not for Christ, which I've heard some zealots claim.
  12. stoic
    seeming unaffected by pleasure or pain; impassive
    If he was occasionally capable of being a stoic in the air, he was always a stoic when Mrs. Walker accused him of childish behavior.
  13. aura
    distinctive but intangible quality around a person or thing
    But the only aura of the granite quarry that clung to Owen was the granular dust, the gray powder that sprang off his clothes whenever we lifted him up.
  14. beneficiary
    the recipient of funds or other advantages
    As for the settlement of the disputed deed, you can be sure the Indians were not the beneficiaries of the resolution to that difference of opinion.
  15. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    A girl named Sukey Swift was especially deft at tickling Owen; instantly, his arms and legs would stick straight out and we'd have him up in the air again.
  16. clout
    (boxing) a blow with the fist
    I am descended from John Adams on my grandmother's side (her maiden name was Bates, and her family came to America on the Mayflower); yet, in our town, it was my grandfather's name that had the clout, and my grandmother wielded her married name with such a sure sense of self-possession that she might as well have been a Wheelwright and an Adams and a Bates.
  17. exploitation
    an act that victimizes someone
    In Little League games he resented this exploitation and once refused to come to bat unless he was allowed to swing at the pitches.
  18. ancestry
    the descendants of one individual
    In New England, the Indian chiefs and higher-ups were called sagamores; although, by the time I was a boy, the only sagamore I knew was a neighbor's dog--a male Labrador retriever named Sagamore (not, I think, for his Indian ancestry but because of his owner's ignorance).
  19. indignity
    an affront to one's self-esteem
    When I die, I shall attempt to be buried in New Hampshire--alongside my mother--but the Anglican Church will perform the necessary service before my body suffers the indignity of trying to be sneaked through U.S. Customs.
  20. ascribe
    attribute or credit to
    But in several other versions of the totem ascribed to Watahantowet, the figure has a tomahawk in its mouth and looks completely crazy--or else, he is making a gesture toward peace: no arms, tomahawk in mouth; together, perhaps, they are meant to signify that Watahantowet does not fight.
  21. gull
    aquatic bird having long pointed wings and short legs
    Our throwing had disturbed the herring gulls who'd been pecking in the mud, and the gulls had moved into the marsh grass on the opposite shore of the Squamscott.
  22. instructive
    serving to enlighten or inform
    Mrs. Walker would read us an instructive passage from the Bible.
  23. emphatic
    spoken with emphasis
    "PUT ME DOWN!" he would say in a strangled, emphatic falsetto.
  24. sordid
    foul and run-down and repulsive
    Even if my father's identity and his story were painful to my mother--even if their relationship had been so sordid that any revelation of it would shed a continuous, unfavorable light upon both my parents--wasn't my mother being selfish not to tell me anything about my father?
  25. ripple
    a small wave on the surface of a liquid
    We were both surprised; it was the last rock either of us threw that day, and we stood watching the circle of ripples extending from the point of entry until even the gulls were assured we had stopped our disturbance of their universe, and they returned to our side of the Squamscott.
  26. morbid
    suggesting the horror of death and decay
    It was a hot, muggy, summer day; the low-tide smell of the mud flats was more brinish and morbid than usual.
  27. founding
    the act of starting something for the first time
    But listen to the names of Gravesend's founding fathers: you will not hear a Meany among them.
  28. realistic
    aware or expressing awareness of things as they are
    It was as if Owen Meany had been born without realistic joints.
  29. grudge
    a resentment strong enough to justify retaliation
    He was eighty when he spoke at Harvard, seeking contributions to rebuild a part of the college destroyed by a fire--demonstrating that he bore the citizens of Massachusetts less of a grudge than anyone else from Gravesend would bear them.
  30. bate
    flap the wings wildly or frantically; used of falcons
    I am descended from John Adams on my grandmother's side (her maiden name was Bates, and her family came to America on the Mayflower); yet, in our town, it was my grandfather's name that had the clout, and my grandmother wielded her married name with such a sure sense of self-possession that she might as well have been a Wheelwright and an Adams and a Bates.
  31. incline
    lower or bend, as in a nod or bow
    And Wheelwrights were not inclined toward sympathy to Meanys.
  32. hamlet
    a community of people smaller than a village
    He was from Lincolnshire, England--the hamlet of Saleby--and nobody knows why he named our town Gravesend.
  33. sophisticated
    having worldly knowledge and refinement
    I'm not very sophisticated in my knowledge of the Old Testament, and I've not read the New Testament since my Sunday school days, except for those passages that I hear read aloud to me when I go to church.
  34. estimation
    an approximate calculation of quantity or degree or worth
    Wheelwright was a Cambridge graduate; he'd played foot- ball with Oliver Cromwell--whose estimation of Wheelwright (as a football player) was both worshipful and paranoid.
  35. quarry
    animal hunted or caught for food
    The Meany Granite Quarry was a big place, the equipment for blasting and cutting the granite slabs was heavy and dangerous-looking; granite itself is such a rough, substantial rock.
  36. adherent
    someone who believes and helps to spread a doctrine
    He was deprived of his weapons; and with his family and several of his bravest adherents, he sailed north from Boston to Great Bay, where he must have passed by two earlier New Hampshire outposts--what was then called Strawbery Banke, at the mouth of the Pascataqua (now Portsmouth), and the settlement in Dover.
  37. dogma
    a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative
    According to Wall's History of Gravesend, N.H., the Rev. John Wheelwright had been a good minister of the English church until he began to "question the authority of certain dogmas"; he became a Puritan, and was thereafter "silenced by the ecclesiastical powers, for nonconformity."
  38. detest
    dislike intensely
    And later still, our town fell under Massachusetts authority--which may, to this day, explain why residents of Gravesend detest people from Massachusetts.
  39. injure
    cause bodily harm to
    His vocal cords had not developed fully, or else his voice had been injured by the rock dust of his family's business.
  40. deprive
    take away
    He was deprived of his weapons; and with his family and several of his bravest adherents, he sailed north from Boston to Great Bay, where he must have passed by two earlier New Hampshire outposts--what was then called Strawbery Banke, at the mouth of the Pascataqua (now Portsmouth), and the settlement in Dover.
  41. demonstrate
    give an exhibition of to an interested audience
    He was eighty when he spoke at Harvard, seeking contributions to rebuild a part of the college destroyed by a fire-- demonstrating that he bore the citizens of Massachusetts less of a grudge than anyone else from Gravesend would bear them.
  42. marsh
    low-lying wet land with grassy vegetation
    According to Wall's History of Gravesend, there were "tracts of natural meadow" and " marshes bordering upon the tidewater."
  43. appreciated
    fully understood or grasped
    And I have always appreciated the frankness expressed in that passage from Timothy, the one that goes ". . . we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out."
  44. frenzy
    state of violent mental agitation
    By the time she came back, of course, we'd forgotten everything about whatever it was--because as soon as she left the room, we would fool around with a frenzy.
  45. combine
    put or add together
    Given the biblical nature of her instructions to us: "to think very hard . . ." she might have imagined that by a supreme act of our combined and hardest thoughts we had succeeded in levitating Owen Meany.
  46. inevitably
    in such a manner as could not be otherwise
    Inevitably, Mrs. Walker would return to the room when Owen was in the air.
  47. location
    the act of putting something in a certain place
    Together with the famous Mrs. Hutchinson, the Rev. Mr. Wheelwright was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for disturbing "the civil peace"; in truth, he did nothing more seditious than offer some heterodox opinions regarding the location of the Holy Ghost--but Massachusetts judged him harshly.
  48. cage
    an enclosure in which animals can be kept
    Sometimes Owen grabbed hold of his chair the instant Mrs. Walker left the room; he'd cling like a bird to a swing in its cage, but he was easy to dislodge because he was ticklish.
  49. continuous
    moving in time or space without interruption
    Even if my father's identity and his story were painful to my mother--even if their relationship had been so sordid that any revelation of it would shed a continuous, unfavorable light upon both my parents--wasn't my mother being selfish not to tell me anything about my father?
  50. rigid
    incapable of or resistant to bending
    His body was rigid; he wouldn't struggle.
  51. banish
    expel, as if by official decree
    Together with the famous Mrs. Hutchinson, the Rev. Mr. Wheelwright was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for disturbing "the civil peace"; in truth, he did nothing more seditious than offer some heterodox opinions regarding the location of the Holy Ghost--but Massachusetts judged him harshly.
  52. dense
    hard to pass through because of heavy growth
    But Mrs. Walker's response was always the same--brutish and unimaginative and incredibly dense.
  53. convince
    make realize the truth or validity of something
    Now I'm convinced it was a voice not entirely of this world.
  54. graduate
    receive an academic degree upon completion of one's studies
    Wheelwright was a Cambridge graduate; he'd played foot- ball with Oliver Cromwell--whose estimation of Wheelwright (as a football player) was both worshipful and paranoid.
  55. martyr
    one who voluntarily suffers death
    As vividly as any number of the stories in the Bible, Owen Meany showed us what a martyr was.
  56. identity
    the characteristics by which a thing or person is known
    Even if my father's identity and his story were painful to my mother--even if their relationship had been so sordid that any revelation of it would shed a continuous, unfavorable light upon both my parents--wasn't my mother being selfish not to tell me anything about my father?
  57. substantial
    capable of being treated as fact
    The Meany Granite Quarry was a big place, the equipment for blasting and cutting the granite slabs was heavy and dangerous-looking; granite itself is such a rough, substantial rock.
  58. conventional
    following accepted customs and proprieties
    My selections from the Order for the Burial of the Dead are entirely conventional and can be found, in the order that I shall have them read--not sung--in The Book of Common Prayer.
  59. tract
    an extended area of land
    According to Wall's History of Gravesend, there were " tracts of natural meadow" and "marshes bordering upon the tidewater."
  60. involve
    contain as a part
    We thought this name suited her because her method of teaching involved a lot of walking out of class.
  61. appreciate
    be fully aware of
    And I have always appreciated the frankness expressed in that passage from Timothy, the one that goes ". . . we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out."
  62. oppose
    be against
    Opposing pitchers would threaten him.
  63. foul
    highly offensive; arousing aversion or disgust
    1
    The Foul Ball

    I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice--not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
  64. pious
    having or showing or expressing reverence for a deity
    But I skip a Sunday service now and then; I make no claims to be especially pious; I have a church-rummage faith--the kind that needs patching up every weekend.
  65. signify
    denote or connote
    But in several other versions of the totem ascribed to Watahantowet, the figure has a tomahawk in its mouth and looks completely crazy--or else, he is making a gesture toward peace: no arms, tomahawk in mouth; together, perhaps, they are meant to signify that Watahantowet does not fight.
  66. entry
    the act of going in
    We were both surprised; it was the last rock either of us threw that day, and we stood watching the circle of ripples extending from the point of entry until even the gulls were assured we had stopped our disturbance of their universe, and they returned to our side of the Squamscott.
  67. selection
    the act of choosing
    My selections from the Order for the Burial of the Dead are entirely conventional and can be found, in the order that I shall have them read--not sung--in The Book of Common Prayer.
  68. rely
    have confidence or faith in
    He was not a good baseball player, but he did have a very small strike zone and as a consequence he was often used as a pinch hitter--not because he ever hit the ball with any authority (in fact, he was instructed never to swing at the ball), but because he could be relied upon to earn a walk, a base on balls.
  69. contribution
    a voluntary gift made to some worthwhile cause
    He was eighty when he spoke at Harvard, seeking contributions to rebuild a part of the college destroyed by a fire--demonstrating that he bore the citizens of Massachusetts less of a grudge than anyone else from Gravesend would bear them.
  70. identify
    recognize as being
    Owen Meany told me that my father would know that my mother was dead, and that--when I was old enough--he would identify himself to me.
  71. revelation
    the speech act of making something evident
    It would be a better story, I think, if Mr. Fish had been killed by the diaper truck--but every study of the gods, of everyone's gods, is a revelation of vengeance toward the innocent.
  72. planet
    a celestial body that revolves around the sun
    We tortured him, I think, in order to hear his voice; I used to think his voice came from another planet.
  73. seize
    take hold of; grab
    Someone--I forget who started it--would get up, seize Owen, sit back down with him, pass him to the next person, who would pass him on, and so forth.
  74. injured
    harmed
    His vocal cords had not developed fully, or else his voice had been injured by the rock dust of his family's business.
  75. meadow
    a field where grass or alfalfa are grown to be made into hay
    According to Wall's History of Gravesend, there were "tracts of natural meadow" and "marshes bordering upon the tidewater."
  76. confirmed
    having been established or made firm or received the rite of confirmation
    I used to be a Congregationalist--I was baptized in the Congregational Church, and after some years of fraternity with Episcopalians (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, too), I became rather vague in my religion: in my teens I attended a "nondenominational" church.
  77. resident
    someone who lives at a particular place for a long period
    And later still, our town fell under Massachusetts authority--which may, to this day, explain why residents of Gravesend detest people from Massachusetts.
  78. grim
    harshly uninviting or formidable in manner or appearance
    We didn't know what the system was, but obviously Owen had a system, because when Mrs. Walker came back to the room--when Owen returned to his chair and we passed his nickels and dimes and his baseball cards back to him--he would sit shuffling through the cards with a grim, silent fury.
  79. ken
    range of what one can know or understand
    Gravesend (the British Gravesend) is in Kent--a fair distance from Wheelwright's stamping ground.
  80. ancestor
    someone from whom you are descended
    As for my ancestor John Wheelwright, he landed in Boston in 1636, only two years before he bought our town.
  81. pearl
    a smooth round structure in the shell of a clam or oyster
    He was the color of a gravestone; light was both absorbed and reflected by his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appeared translucent at times--especially at his temples, where his blue veins showed through his skin (as though, in addition to his extraordinary size, there were other evidence that he was born too soon).
  82. instruct
    impart skills or knowledge to
    He was not a good baseball player, but he did have a very small strike zone and as a consequence he was often used as a pinch hitter--not because he ever hit the ball with any authority (in fact, he was instructed never to swing at the ball), but because he could be relied upon to earn a walk, a base on balls.
  83. patch
    a small contrasting part of something
    But I skip a Sunday service now and then; I make no claims to be especially pious; I have a church-rummage faith--the kind that needs patching up every weekend.
  84. release
    grant freedom to; free from confinement
    "YOUR DAD CAN HIDE FROM YOU," Owen said, "BUT HE CAN'T HIDE FROM GOD."

    And with that announcement, Owen Meany grunted as he released a stone that reached the water.
  85. indicate
    designate a place, direction, person, or thing
    Some said it was how it made the sagamore feel to give up all that land--to have his arms cut off--and others pointed out that earlier "marks" made by Watahantowet revealed that the figure, although armless, held a feather in his mouth; this was said to indicate the sagamore's frustration at being unable to write.
  86. blast
    a sudden very loud noise
    The Meany Granite Quarry was a big place, the equipment for blasting and cutting the granite slabs was heavy and dangerous-looking; granite itself is such a rough, substantial rock.
  87. equipment
    an instrumentality needed for an undertaking
    The Meany Granite Quarry was a big place, the equipment for blasting and cutting the granite slabs was heavy and dangerous-looking; granite itself is such a rough, substantial rock.
  88. challenge
    a call to engage in a contest or fight
    We managed this while remaining seated in our chairs--that was the challenge of the game.
  89. universe
    everything that exists anywhere
    We were both surprised; it was the last rock either of us threw that day, and we stood watching the circle of ripples extending from the point of entry until even the gulls were assured we had stopped our disturbance of their universe, and they returned to our side of the Squamscott.
  90. damage
    the occurrence of a change for the worse
    Maybe he had larynx damage, or a destroyed trachea; maybe he'd been hit in the throat by a chunk of granite.
  91. instructions
    a manual explaining how to install or operate a device
    Given the biblical nature of her instructions to us: "to think very hard . . ." she might have imagined that by a supreme act of our combined and hardest thoughts we had succeeded in levitating Owen Meany.
  92. response
    the speech act of continuing a conversational exchange
    But Mrs. Walker's response was always the same--brutish and unimaginative and incredibly dense.
  93. absorb
    suck or take up or in
    He was the color of a gravestone; light was both absorbed and reflected by his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appeared translucent at times--especially at his temples, where his blue veins showed through his skin (as though, in addition to his extraordinary size, there were other evidence that he was born too soon).
  94. dispute
    coming into conflict with
    Later, there was some dispute--not very interesting--regarding the Indian deed, and more interesting speculation regarding why Watahantowet's totem was an armless man.
  95. version
    something a little different from others of the same type
    But in several other versions of the totem ascribed to Watahantowet, the figure has a tomahawk in its mouth and looks completely crazy--or else, he is making a gesture toward peace: no arms, tomahawk in mouth; together, perhaps, they are meant to signify that Watahantowet does not fight.
  96. arrive
    reach a destination
    I feel that my own religious confusion, and stubbornness, owe much to my ancestor, who suffered not only the criticisms of the English church before he left for the new world; once he arrived, he ran afoul of his fellow Puritans in Boston.
  97. purchase
    acquire by means of a financial transaction
    The town where I was born was purchased from an Indian sagamore in 1638 by the Rev. John Wheelwright, after whom I was named.
  98. joint
    junction by which parts or objects are joined together
    It was as if Owen Meany had been born without realistic joints.
  99. contact
    the act of touching physically
    He had no known contact with the British Gravesend, although that is surely where the name of our town came from.
  100. responsible
    worthy of or requiring trust; held accountable
    The canine Sagamore was killed by a diaper truck, and I now believe that the gods of those troubled waters of that much-abused lake were responsible.
  101. weigh
    have a certain heft
    We thought it was a miracle: how little he weighed.
  102. gesture
    motion of hands or body to emphasize a thought or feeling
    But in several other versions of the totem ascribed to Watahantowet, the figure has a tomahawk in its mouth and looks completely crazy--or else, he is making a gesture toward peace: no arms, tomahawk in mouth; together, perhaps, they are meant to signify that Watahantowet does not fight.
  103. confirm
    strengthen or make more firm
    I used to be a Congregationalist--I was baptized in the Congregational Church, and after some years of fraternity with Episcopalians (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, too), I became rather vague in my religion: in my teens I attended a "nondenominational" church.