T.S. Garp, whose life is traced in John Irving’s The Wold According to Garp, is a humorous, bittersweet, and wonderfully human character. His unusual life begins even before him, with an extraordinary conception. His mother, Jenny Fields, is a no-nonsense nurse whose unorthodox philosophy on life shapes Garp’s irregular fate. Having seen the messier and less appealing consequences of human lust, Jenny is not interested in men or sex, but is interested in motherhood. By utilizing the constant arousal of a rapidly deteriorating World War II soldier under her care at Boston Mercy Hospital, Jenny Fields gets pregnant, without the usual entanglements of romance, commitment or disease. Jenny and her baby, T.S. Garp, carry the particular strangeness of the event with them throughout their lives.
Through Garp’s younger years, the years during which one needs a mother’s care, the two stay together. In this time Garp is expose to books, his mother’s anti-social existence, and the adventurous nonsense a young boy with a slightly eccentric mother is apt to find. First, Jenny works as a nurse at the Steering School where Garp lives in the infirmary and receives a fine education in the classroom, and a decent amount of learning outside the classroom. His sexual experimentation from a young age would always carry a hint of the clinical air with which Jenny described it. Garp joins the wrestling team as recommended by his mother, who also sampled every course offered at the school so as to best advise her son. Wrestling, the kind Coach Helm, and his lovely daughter, Helen Helm, who is constantly reading, leave a lasting mark on Garp. It is Helen who inspires Garp to become a writer by saying if she ever married it would be to a writer. Following Garp’s graduation, he and Jenny go to Europe, where Garp plans to begin writing. In Vienna, the solitary pension life is natural for both mother and son. However, the writing comes more easily to Jenny than to Garp, who after managing only one strong short story himself, called ‘The Pension GrillParzer,’ resents his mother’s autobiography entitled ‘A Sexual Suspect.’
Helen Helm, after reading ‘The Pension Grillparzer,’marries Garp and their marriage twists together with a collection of oddities rivaling those of Garp’s childhood. The Garps have two boys, whom Garp cares for while Jenny teaches at a local college.
The role of homemaker and writer is satisfying for Garp, but the marriage is tested several times by that human lust Jenny Fields had always despised. Indiscretions made by both Helen and Garp tear at their relationship until one particular indiscretion leads to an accident in which both are injured and one of the sons is killed. Unable to care for themselves, and unwilling to try and care for one another, Garp and Helen, along with their surviving son, move in with Jenny.
After Vienna Garp had his adult life and Jenny’s book was published, and with those changes Jenny begins her next project. At her family’s house at Dog’s Head Harbor, Maine, Jenny opened her arms and ears to troubled women, and begins the crusade which wins her fame. Jenny is a feminist, and, always wearing her white nurse’s uniform, a great figure of strength for other feminists. Her home is open to everyone, and through it Garp is exposed to new sorts of women and opinions. The Ellen Jamesians are a group which influences Garp more dramatically. To show their alliances a sympathy for a young rape victim whose tongue was cut out by her attackers, the Ellen Jamesians cut out their own tongues. It is an act and a philosophy Garp struggles to understand. He never liked rape, but self mutilation is not an interest of his either. From the accident onward Garp’s writing becomes more strange and Jenny becomes more political, a public figure to the point where she is the target of assassination.
The passage of time in The World According to Garp brings to Garp an understanding of his mother, an acceptance of his fate and leggacy for his children. Though not a great hero, Garp lives an outstanding life, one so strong that even after his death, his children and acquaintances would continue on living in the world according to him.