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Garp was a feminist

  • Jul 5, 2009
Rating:
+5
Hilarious and serious at the same time, "The Word According to Garp" is among my top 10 favorite books. John Irving began writing it in the wake of the radical feminism of the early 1970's. Recently, Irving concluded that the book is about "a father's fears" but also acknowledges, "it had seemed at one time, when I was beginning the novel, that the polarization of the sexes was a dominant theme; the story was about men and women growing farther and farther apart."
 
A central theme is the difficulty men and women have in understanding and relating to each another. The character in the book best able to see things from both a male and female perspective is the transsexual former Philadelphia Eagles tight end, Roberta Muldoon. She calls Garp in the middle of the night after having been rejected by a male lover:
 
"Oh, I never knew what shits men were until I became a woman," Roberta said.
"I'll bet you could have taken him, Roberta," Garp said. "Why didn't you beat the shit out of him?"
"You don't understand," Roberta said. "I don't feel like beating the shit out of anyone, anymore. I'm a woman!"
 
It is ironic that Garp, reviled by the radical feminist Ellen Jamesians shows his inherent "open mindedness" about traditional gender roles earlier in the book when he happily stays at home to write, take care of his son Duncan, and make meals while his wife Helen earns a living as an English professor:
 
"... she had agreed to have a child only if Garp would agree to take care of it. Garp loved the idea of never having to go out. He wrote and took care of Duncan; he cooked and wrote and took care of Duncan some more. When Helen came home, she came home to a reasonably happy homemaker."
 
In another example of gender reversal, Garp is forced to attend his own mother's funeral in drag because it is the "first feminist funeral" and men are not admitted. After he is recognized, he must run to escape the outraged feminists at the funeral. He catches a taxi to the airport and has to listen (dressed as a woman) to the cabby's sexist views about the female candidate for governor of New Hampshire who let her emotions about the assassination of Jenny Fields show in public and consequently lost the election. Garp gets into an argument with the cabby because he is annoyed at the driver’s sexist point of view:

 "In my opinion," the cabby said, "it took something like that shooting to show the people that the woman couldn't handle the job, you know?"
"Shut up and drive," Garp said.
"Look, honey," the cabby said. "I don't have to put up with no abuse."
"You're an asshole and a moron," Garp told him, "and if you don't drive me to the airport with your mouth shut, I'll tell a cop you tried to paw me all over."
 
Next, when he gets on the plane to Boston he first finds himself seated next to a man who tries to pick him up:
 
"Perhaps, when we're in the air," the man said, knowingly, "I could buy you a little drink?" His small, close-together eyes were riveted on the twisted zipper of Garp's straining turquoise jump suit.
Garp felt a peculiar kind of unfairness overwhelm him. He had not asked to have such an anatomy.
"That's some suit you got," said Garp's leering seat partner.
"Go stick it in your ear," Garp said.
 
Ultimately, the narrow-minded vicious side of radical feminism is parodied in the Ellen Jamesians. The brutal ridiculousness of their gesture shows what Irving thinks of them. These radicals mutilate themselves by having their tongues cut out in protest over a young girl named Ellen James who has been raped at age 11 and then had her tongue cut out by her assailant so she cannot identify him. Late in the book, after the assassination of Jenny Fields, Garp's view of the Ellen Jamesians is described:
 
"It was madness that had killed Jenny Fields, his mother. It was extremism. It was self-righteous, fanatical, and monstrous self-pity. Kenny Truckenmiller was only a special kind of moron: a true believer who was also a thug. He was a man who pitied himself so blindly that he could make absolute enemies out of people who contributed only the ideas to his undoing. And how was an Ellen Jamesian any different? Was not her gesture as desperate, and as empty of an understanding of human complexity?"
 
Garp finally meets Ellen James on the plane to Boston when she ends up seated next to him, and the reader finds out what she thinks about the Ellen Jamesians, and it is no surprise:
 
"I hate the Ellen Jamesians," she wrote. "I would never do this to myself." She opened her mouth and pointed to the wide absence in there. Garp cringed. "I want to talk; I want to say everything," wrote Ellen James.
 
 

 

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July 05, 2009
John Irving is among my favorite authors (although my favorite Irving novel is hard to say... I loved The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany.... but deciding which is the best is near impossible).

This review, I think, shows definitively what the book is.  The World According to Garp is a hilarious read but at the same time it is quite emotionally invested.  

July 05, 2009
Yep, he's one of my favorites too ... all those you mentioned are great ... Son of the Circus too. Garp was how I discovered Irving so it remains a sentimental favorite ... Saving Piggy Sneed is a nice autobiographical piece too ...
 
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More The World According to Garp reviews
review by . July 12, 2010
John Irving is the rare breed of a writer who began with some pretty good success critically.  His earliest works such as Setting Free the Bears, The 158 Pound Marriage and The Water Method Man actually opened up to critical success.  All of those books didn't exactly sell very well, however.  Rather they were quite unknown.  In 1978, John Irving published The World According to Garp and the result was a runaway bestseller.  It was a book that was filled to the brim …
review by . May 24, 2010
John Irving is brilliant, and brings another wild cast of colorful characters to 'Garp'. T.S Garp (no, the "T.S." doesn't stand for anything) is the illegitimate son of a feminist nurse, Jenny,  whos views on men, sexuality, and especially lust are rather bleak, to say the least. The story chronicles their lives together, then moves on with Garp as he begins his own family. Jenny is ever-near,  and Garp's family goes well beyond the biological, eventually including …
Quick Tip by . June 25, 2010
There's a reason this book got Irving his fame. If you read nothing else by John Irving, make sure you get this one.
Quick Tip by . June 15, 2010
strange
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
I could read this book over and over.
review by . May 24, 2009
The first time I experienced "Garp" was as a teenager in my friend Steve's basement, some five years after the novel's 1978 publication. Steve was telling me about that part in the story when Garp hits a car that happens to be occupied by his wife and her student lover. Many details of his account can not be shared on this public forum. I was agog.    "And then what happened?" I asked. Steve didn't really recall, except something about women with their tongues cut out. It was …
review by . January 04, 2001
I just love Garp - he is one of my favourite literary characters. His life, which he yearns to be boring and normal, is a reader's delight, from his unorthodox conception to the trials and tribulations of his marriage.But this book is not just about Garp, it is about finding the unusual in every day things, about rejoicing in sadness and about making the best of what you have. It is a truly delightful book, and I rank it just as highly as I do Irving's other great masterpiece "A Prayer for Owen …
About the reviewer
Steve DiBartola ()
Ranked #153
I was invited to join Lunch by one of the developers, who apparently read some reviews I posted on Library Thing. My interests are books, music, and movies. I enjoy both classical and contemporary fiction, … more
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Wiki

"Garp was a natural storyteller," says the narrator of John Irving's incandescent novel, referring to the book's hero, the novelist Garp, who has much in common with Irving himself. "He could make things up one right after the other, and they seemed to fit."

Irving packs wild characters and weird events into his classic--officially recognized as such in a Modern Library edition with a new introduction by the author--while amazingly maintaining the rough feel of realism in every scene and the pulse of life in every heart. Many novelists of his time might have populated a novel with a novelist protagonist whose life and books comment on each other and the novel we're reading. Transsexual football players, ball turret gunners lobotomized in battle, multiple adultery, unicycling bears, mad feminists who amputate their tongues in sympathy with the celebrated victim of a horrifying rape--Irving made them all people. Even the bear is a fitting character.

In a crucial episode, Garp's wife's seduction of a young man coincidentally occurs at the moment when Garp is delighting their young sons with a reckless car trick (one of the few scenes beautifully, eerily, heartbreakingly captured in the film version as well). Many authors would have been content with the harsh comedy of the scene, but Irving respects its integrity, and he builds the rest of the book on the consequences of the event. How does he get away with his killer cocktail of ...

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Details

ISBN-10: 0525237704 (hbk.)
ISBN-13: 9780525237709 (hbk.)
Publisher: Dutton Adult
Date Published: April 24, 1978
Format: 1st ed.
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