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What it means to be a parent and challenging conventional notions and traditions is a major theme of the novel which should not be surprising considering the unusual means by which its titular hero was conceived. The decidedly non-conformist manner in which Garp’s mother Jenny impregnates herself sets the stage for an examination of the role parenthood and how parenting decisions impact the development of children that trickles down to her son’s being at the vanguard of the stay-at-home dad busting of conventions.
One of the most ironic casting decisions in the history of film adaptations occurred when the manic comic and living amphetamine Robin Williams was chosen to play the solidly grounded observer of eccentrics surrounding, T.S. Garp. Garp is the eyes through the reader can observe the absurd situations and idiosyncratic personalities that drive the story around him. Take individually, there are any number of events which occur in the world of Garp that would draw attention to themselves as being unrealistically engineered for the sake of fiction. That so many of these bizarre, macabre, horrifying or simply unusual things do seem to inhabit the limited world in which Garp lives suggests that if we take the time to really think about it, we can all probably point to a number of incredibly unlikely incidents that took place around us.
John Irving was examining gender conventions, expectations, stereotypes and societal in The World According to Garp long before it was cool. The most obvious realization of this thematic concern is the transsexual Roberta Muldoon who crosses freely over the lines separating gender and effectively blurs them beyond all distinction, but equally delineated is Garp’s mother, Jenny. Jenny is a unique and original feminist whose iconoclastic views toward gender conformation and sexist appropriation of autonomy of the body is effective the force that drives the entire narrative. Without Jenny’s original blasting away of expectations of gender-based morality, that world would not have Garp to observe all its many absurd realities.
The World According to Garp Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:
This detailed literature summary also contains Bibliography and a Free Quiz on The World According to Garp by John Irving.
Although John Irving's first three novels were relatively well-received by the critics, he was basically unknown to the general public until The World According to Garp became an international bestseller when it was published in the United States in 1978. The novel features the memorably eccentric characters, outlandish situations, and moments both joyous and heartbreaking that so many readers cherish. It is the tragicomic life story of author T. S. Garp, son of the controversial feminist Jenny Fields. Garp's world is filled with "lunacy and sorrow." His mother is a radically independent nurse who conceives him by taking advantage of a brain-damaged soldier. His best friend is a transsexual who was formerly a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. Garp struggles vainly to protect the people he loves. His life is both hilarious and ultimately tragic.
Irving's novel was especially popular on college campuses across the nation because of its youthful energy, and the novelist was applauded for creating realistic and strong female characters. Garp is an intricately plotted novel, and its themes are universal: love, sex, death, art, gender roles. The book shares many of the characteristics of Irving novels published before and after it. For example, in several Irving novels, children grow up without one or more parents, as in The Hotel New Hampshire (1981) and The Cider House Rules (1985). Garp is also influenced by Irving's experiences in Austria in the 1960s, as are Setting Free the Bears (1968) and The 158-Pound Marriage (1974).
For the most part, critics gave the novel excellent reviews. Millions continue to read Irving's books, and thus he remains one of the most popular and successful American writers of the last twenty-five years.
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