World According to Garp

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Novel by John Irving, published in 1978.

Jenny Fields, a dedicated New England heiress, drops out of Wellesley College to nurse war-shattered soldiers in a Boston hospital during World War II. There she quixotically decides to have a child and therefore gives herself to a dying, brain-damaged airplane gunner who can only shout the meaningless exclamation, “Garp.” Therefore she calls their child T.S. (for Technical Sergeant) Garp. In time he goes to a New England preparatory school, where she serves as a nurse and writes the book A Sexual Suspect, a statement on women's sensibilities and rights. Garp too becomes an author, matures to marry a bookish woman, Helen, and fathers two children, Duncan and Walt, while his mother becomes a leader of the women's rights movement. In an auto accident, while Garp is driving, Walt is killed, Duncan loses an eye, and Helen is severely injured. With his remaining family Garp then goes to live in a home for battered women run by his mother, which houses a cult of Ellen Jamesians, named for a folk hero, an 11-year-old girl who was raped. There he writes a novel, The World According to Bensenhaver, a tale of ghastly happenings and some compassionate people. Violent tragedy occurs in real life too as Jenny is killed by a demented man and Garp is later shot down by a woman who mistakenly believes he raped her sister. Although mother and son are murdered, their ideas, respectively about women and about people of sensitivity, continue to affect followers.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

John Irving (b. 1942)

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