In a past Top Ten Tuesday post I paired Charles Dickens’ classic novel Great Expectations with the more contemporary novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Many people expressed interest in hearing more about the connection I see between these two works of literature even though they seem very different at a first glance. While there are many differences between them— publication dates, settings, time periods—they also share several important similarities.
Protagonists || Both novels focus on the lives of young boys as they mature into adulthood. In Great Expectations, Dickens tells the story of naïve Pip as he moves away from home learns what it’s like to live in the real world. Interestingly, it could be argued that there are two protagonists in A Prayer for Owen Meany: Owen Meany himself as well as John Wheelwright, the narrator through which we are told the events of both of their lives. Pip, Owen, and John all undergo significant character development as time passes, circumstances change, and unforeseen events take place.
Genre || Though these books are of distinct genres– Victorian literature and contemporary fiction– they’re also part of a shared genre: Bildungsroman. Both novels are coming-of-age stories with characters you can’t help but root for along the way. They might make some frustratingly foolish decisions at times—but who hasn’t? What I love about this genre is that it is primarily character-driven. The plot is important, but it is often secondary to what the characters are experiencing and feeling.
Plans || Speaking of plot, the events of these books can get complicated. There are so many tiny details to keep track of that at times it can seem a bit overwhelming. However, Dickens and Irving somehow manage to pull it all together at the end and connect the many dots that never made sense before. I distinctly remember reading the ending of A Prayer for Owen Meany and being absolutely blown away. All of those seemingly random symbols and details suddenly made perfect sense in a way that I never expected. It’s clear that these writers had plans in mind when writing these brilliant books (or maybe they’re just really good at spontaneous success!).
What are your thoughts on these two books? Would you pair them together? Are there books that would make a more suitable pair? Let me know in the comments section below!
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