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Comedy – 1984 – Special – Robin Williams – Understanding The World According To Garp


The World According to Garp is John Irving’s fourth novel….which is about a man who was born out of wedlock to a feminist leader…..who grows up to be a writer. The book was published in 1978….and became a bestseller for several years….as it was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 1979….as its first paperback edition won the Award the following year.  Robin Williams starred in a movie adaptation of the novel starring in 1982.  

The story deals with the life of T. S. Garp….whose mother, Jenny Fields, is a strong-willed nurse who wants a child but not a husband….when she encounters a dying ball turret gunner known only as Technical Sergeant Garp, who was severely brain damaged in combat….who she nurses Garp and observes his infantile state and almost perpetual autonomic sexual arousal. As a matter of practicality and kindness in making his passing as comfortable as possible and reducing his agitation….she manually gratifies him several times. Unconstrained by convention and driven by practicality and her desire for a child….Jenny rapes Technical Sergeant Garp, and uses his semen to impregnate herself and names the resulting son “T. S.”….a name derived from Technical Sergeant….but consisting of just initials. Jenny raises young Garp alone, taking a position at the all-boys Steering School in New England.  

Garp grows up, becoming interested in sex, wrestling, and writing fiction….which were three topics in which his mother had little interest. After his graduation in 1961, his mother takes him to Vienna, where he writes his first novella. At the same time, his mother begins writing her autobiography, A Sexual Suspect….which makes his mother famous….after which she becomes a feminist icon….as feminists view her book as a manifesto of a woman who does not care to bind herself to a man….who chooses to raise a child on her own.

T.S. Garp’s mother nurtures and supports women traumatized by men….among them being a group named The Ellen Jamesians,….named after an eleven-year-old girl whose tongue was cut off by her rapists to silence her. The members of the group cut off their own tongues in solidarity with the girl – the girl herself opposes this tongue cutting. 

Garp becomes a devoted parent, wrestling with anxiety for the safety of his children and a desire to keep them safe from the dangers of the world. He and his family inevitably experience dark and violent events through which the characters change and grow….as Garp often learns painful lessions from the women in his life….including transsexual ex-football player Roberta Muldoon….who are struggling to become more tolerant in the face of intolerance. The story contains a great deal of “lunacy and sorrow”….and the sometimes ridiculous chains of events the characters experience still resonate with painful truth.  

The novel contains several framed narratives….1st being Garp’s original piece of fiction….a short story he wrote entitled The Pension Grillparzer….as the book also contains some motifs that appear in some, but clearly not all, John Irving novels….which bears, New England, Vienna, hotels, wrestling, a person who prefers abstinence over sex…..and, like nearly all of Irving’s novels….it features a complex Dickensian plot which spans the protagonist’s whole life…..where another common Irving motif, adultry, also plays a large part, culminating in one of the novel’s most harrowing and memorable scenes.  

More so than any other writer….American or otherwise…..John Irving’s fiction has presented writers as protagonists….as evidenced by The World According to Garp…..and Robin Williams fully understood this about John Irving’s characters….as he so succinctly shows the viewer in this interview seen herewith.

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