Dogs Head Harbor
There are various literary devices available for writers to choose from and use in order to enhance their work. Such devices include, symbolism, characterization, point of view, setting, plot, theme, imagery, irony, etc. Each literary element betters the writing in their own ways. John Irving incorporates plenty of said literary elements in his best-selling novel “The World According to Garp”. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel because in addition to the story being particularly interesting, I was also entertained by Irving’s use of techniques throughout the book.
To start with, the characterization Irving used to generate an image and understanding of each character was very clear to me. I believe that the way each character is developed and presented to the reader heightens the greatness of the story in the sense that we not only gain an overall understanding of each character separately, but also how they shape the novel together as well. There are examples of several types of characters in the story. T.S. Garp is the protagonist of the novel, a round, and dynamic character, because he is the main, most developed character with varied traits. Jenny Fields could be an example of a foil character because her character development enhances Garp as her fierceness contrasts his lustfulness and their values differ. Cushie is an example of a stock character because she is a stereotype. An example of direct characterization occurs right at the beginning of the book when Irving writes, “She had... what her mother called a mannish way of walking... and her rump and hips were so slender and hard that, from behind, she resembled a young boy.” (1; ch.1).
Next, I enjoyed how the plot was built up and established by the author. The most important settings of the novel include Dogs Head Harbor in New Hampshire, and Steering School. Some significant instances also take place in Vienna and New York. The exposition starts with background knowledge on Jenny Fields, Garp’s mother and how he came to exist. An example of rising action in the novel could be when Jenny begins working at Steering School, which Garp is a student at and where he partakes in wrestling and falls in love with Helen Holm. The climax would be the car accident because that is the event that everyone’s life is altered from. An example of falling action is the remaining family members recovery from the accident at Dogs Head Harbor in Jenny’s care. Finally, the resolution includes the murder of Garp whom died by gunshot wounds fired by Pooh. The way the plot plays out elevates the story because tragedy has a way of drawing the reader in and captivating their attention. For me, I had grown an attachment to certain characters so when tragedy struck, I felt emotions consisting of sympathy and empathy.
“The World According to Garp” is written from the limited omniscient point of view. Throughout the novel we only ever know the thoughts and emotions of the protagonist, T.S. Garp. An example of this point of view and one of my favorites of Garp’s thoughts being displayed for the reader would be, “Garp found that he could forget her; lust, as his mother called it, was tricky that way.” (170; ch.6). Irving writing the story from the limited omniscient point of view improves the novel because this point of view allows for a somewhat intimate connection to the protagonist while still leaving room for a mystery because we are perceiving information alongside the character rather than ahead of the character.
Another literary device that Irving uses in his novel would be symbolism. I believe the biggest symbol of the story to be the “undertoad”. The undertoad refers to a miscommunication between Helen and Garp, and their son whom misheard them when warning him of the undertow at the beach. The little boy believed the “undertoad” to be a big monster lurking under the water. This becomes an inside joke in the family. However, I believe the undertoad symbolizes fear. Instead of a big, scary monster, it is truly Garp’s fears lurking under the surface. Symbolism enhances this novel because it encourages the audience to think and comprehend a deeper meaning to the story.
Another literary element used in this work is imagery. One of my favorite nature images from the novel was written as such, “Below her, the forsythia brushes winked in the light from the downstairs windows; from so far away, the yellow flowers looked (to her) like the tips of small gas flames.” This is just one example out of the vast amount of beautifully written passages in this novel. This book was very sensual and I found myself becoming lost within the pages, seeing what was being described on paper in my mind. This literary technique benefitted the novel because rather than just reading words on pages, John Irving creates a visual scene in the mind of the reader which is both captivating and compels the reader to continue on.
Irving also uses foreshadowing to make his novel all the better. A big example of foreshadowing that I can think of from the story would be when the dog Bonkers attacks Garp as a child and ends up biting a piece of his ear off. This event foreshadows another confrontation between the two when Garp is in his teenage years. This situation results in Garp biting a piece of Bonkers ear off. I think that the foreshadowing used in this literary piece makes the story better because it leaves the reader with a sense of suspense and expectation of something unknown to happen later on. This engages the audience more and gives them something to think about/look forward to as they continue reading.
Lastly, I believe the absolutely most significant literary element of “The World According to Garp” is theme. There are several major and minor themes portrayed by John Irving in this novel I believe to have found. The most prominent themes deal with sexuality, gender roles, and of course death. The novel ends with the quote, “But in the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.” I have thought about that sentence a lot since I finished the book. This has lead me to believe that the major theme of this novel is that, you can’t control life or death, you have to take what you get as it comes to you. Garp has an intense fear of death, himself and for loved ones. As someone who does not fear death, but fears life and the future more, this was a hard concept for me to understand on a personal level. Although, I have come to the conclusion that this theme enhances the novel because after doing more research, I have realized that this is a common fear people have. People can relate to this idea and thus benefit from the theme and the story as a whole.
In conclusion, I loved reading this novel a great deal. I feel that I learned quite a bit from it and was able to understand it well. I found myself recognizing literary devices easily as I made my way through the book. To which, I also believe these devices aided me in comprehending the novel more precisely. John Irving created and formed this story using these literary elements listed and more for a reason. That reason being, they take a good story and turn it into a great story.