In John Irving’s novel The World According to Garp the reader is introduced into the novel with Jenny Fields through the ubiquitous narration.  This is T.S. Garp’s mother.  Her conception of her son is done while she is a nurse in a hospital attending to a comatose patient.  Her conception of Garp is rather unusual as she has sex with a man with a constant erection, and thus, Garp’s namesake was conceived in an event that may by all rights be considered radical feminism (as Jenny Fields does not ask permission) or under extreme definitions, adultery (whether or not the man is married is not stated).  Thus, the beginning of the novel introduces the idea of sorrow mixed with sin and creation.

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This paper will bring forth the ideas of adultery in Irving’s novel and the impact of this action on the main characters.  The work of Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) will be used as a comparison between Garp and Gatsby. Also the concept of the sin of adultery will be introduced in this paper with regards to certain passages from the bible, and the influence religion has had on the characters in the book The World According to Garp.  The final frame of the paper will consist of a dialogue taken from Plato’s The Republic in regards to the moral or demoralizing characters in Irving’s work and their reactions to adultery in its aftermath.

In a somewhat extreme context, Irving’s novel may be considered to allow for sexual assassination.  The novel present many sexual scenes in which the characters are not married, and although these scenes are representational of power, they are at their base a design by Irving to give the reader a sense of how these characters react to sin, and the consequences of tarnishing religious vows.

The basic premise of the religion lies in the adherence to the code of laws set forth, as the religion perceives, from God to Moses – the Ten Commandments. Though dated earlier than Christianity, and borrowed from Judaism, the Ten Commandments hold the rules thatone must follow to remain in the “Grace of God”. These commandments follow the basic ideals that can, if followed, benefit all mankind. Stealing, murder, adultery, and lying are the principle sins that the commandments call for Christian adherents to avoid.

Page 2 The World According Essay

The Bible’s double standard is never more evidentthan in its definition of adultery:  Women were considered to be adulteress if they were with anyone but their husbands, however, men were allowed many sexual partners.  King Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) Also, King David is said to have had many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13).  A married man in the Bible may sleep with any unmarried women and he is not considered an adulterer.  In short, adultery only biblically occurs when intercourse involves a married women (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22, Proverbs 6:20-7:27).

Currently in Israel, if a married man has a child to an unmarried woman the child is considered legitimate.  If a married woman has a child to a man married or unmarried that child is illegitimate, and considered a bastard.  The child is then forbidden to marry any other Jew, except converts, and other illegitimate children.  Jewish law requires this ban for ten generations until the mother’s crime of adultery is forgotten (Togay 313).

Consequently, if we look back at the nineteen fifties it is clear that women believed in marrying early and not having sex before they were married; at least that was what was instilled in them.  When a woman decided to get married the man was to have full control over her and she had very little input in decision of the family or familial affairs (Coontz 9).   Many marriage advice books to this day suggest that a woman, who surrenders to her husband completely, will succeed more often in a marriage (Coontz 9).

In Irving’s novel, the main idea of the author was to present the thesis of, “In the world of Garp, we are all terminal cases”.   Although the radical nature of sexual content in the novel is abundant it is interesting to note that Garp’s mother Jenny Fields is not a sexual being.  Thus, one of the strongest, if not the strongest character in the novel is one who does not condone nor interact with sexual desires.  Thus, it seems that the paradigm of Irving’s novel rests upon the idea of original sin dealing with nudity and its eventual causality of sex.  Therefore, since Jenny Field’s is not a sexual creature, she is a dynamic and powerful character, one whom the nation addresses as one of the leading feminists, and not prone to adultery, despite the initial scene in the novel.

In the main theme of this paper, adultery, the exhibition of it in this novel is somewhat extreme in its consequences.  Garp’s wife has an affair with one of her students whom she later tells Garp that she picked exactly because of his difference from her husband.  When she tries to break it off with him, he insists upon one last ‘fling’ in the parked car in the driveway.

At the same time, Garp is bringing the children home and he is full of anxiety and hate.  The children insist upon ‘flying’ a favorite pastime in which Garp turns off the headlights and parks the car in the driveway and presents the illusion that they are ‘flying’.  The cars collide and Garp’s youngest child is murdered.   Along with this very tragic end, Garp’s entire family is injured, but the most evident of this is his wife’s lover, Michael Milton, is castrated.  Thus, the novel’s presentation of adultery is coupled with a reputable source of punishment for the adulterer.

The concept of castration as a punishment for adultery seems very fair in The World According to Garp.  Thus, the theme of lunacy and sorrow, which is how Garp’s writing teacher paraphrased Garp’s own writing, is what contextually makes Irving’s work worth analysis.  The penalties which Irving induces upon his characters are also extreme.  Garp’s character is unable to talk, and thus is forced to write his anger, resentment, guilt, and hate on a notepad when his wife tries to communicate to him about the tragic event.  Thus, adultery has led the family into a tumultuous time period in which the death of the youngest child is marked with the sin of the mother.

Although the main point of this paper is about the relentless tragedy which adultery leads a person into, the idea of forgiveness in the novel is one worth pointing out.  It is with Jenny Field’s character that Garp is able to rebuild himself after this tragedy.  Without Jenny, Garp and his wife would not have reunited, nor have bore a third child, a daughter, they named, Jenny.  Thus, the importance of forgiveness in adultery is found in Irving’s work with the strong character of Jenny who has been a platonic love.

The strength in the reintroduction of the Garp into a family unit is done by Jenny.  It is interesting to note here that the feminist woman who wrote a book about her sexual denial in Strange Suspect, in which her life as a single mother is detailed, is able to bring her family back together.  It seems that the introduction of sin has completely demolished the character’s previous lives, and it is from this wreckage that they themselves become stronger.  Although Garp’s son paints many pictures, they all carry a hazy image of his younger brother, this is done in homage, and so, no family member is forgotten.

The idea that power and sex go hand in hand, it is curious to think that Garp’s wife has an affair which leads to the cause of their son’s death.  Although the sexual exploits of Garp are not pure, it is his wife’s actions, and he continuing them after she has been requested by Garp to end the affair, that leads to the ultimate tragedy in the novel.  Although the novel goes into detail of the dichotomy of patriarchy and matriarchy, the extent of this paper’s follow through with adultery only slightly details these themes.

In Plato’s The Republic, Plato is arguing the point of sin, “Neither will he ever break faith where there have been oaths or agreements.  Impossible.  No one will be less likely to commit adultery, or to dishonor his father and mother, or to fail in his religious duties? No one. And the reason is that each part of him is doing its own business, whether in ruling or being ruled? Exactly so”.  Thus, the concept that had been mentioned prior about sex and power is supported by Plato’s own writings, and its application to Irving’s characters is this: a just man is not prone toward sin (adultery); thus, the problems between Garp and his wife became problems through the fault of the woman.  Therefore, both sin and forgiveness in the novel were two things which she had to commit, and ask for.

In comparison to Garp’s character, Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s novel is also a character exposed to sin.  Throughout the whole The Great Gatsby there can be seen the struggle of one man against the 1920s ideal of wealth, leisure and social standing as the pretence towards the American dream. Jay Gatsby had dedicated his life, and all facets of it, to the creation of the necessary persona needed to win the heart of his one true love.

His desire for Daisy leads him to compromise his moral judgment and to lead a life in which he believes Daisy would want to be a part, not a life in which he is happy, “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — no through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion…” (Fitzgerald 92). However, this goal is not obtained, as he is tragically murdered before he can convince Daisy to leave Tom Buchanan. These events and motivations alter the natural view of his actions – his criminal activity, attempted adultery and thievery – and instead make his entire life’s work, from 1919 to the present, an elaborate plan to win true love.

The theme of these two novels in adultery is this:  it is not love which causes the woman to commit the sin, but it is the idea of gaining power which is the route to the action.
 

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