John Irving, in his novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, uses several symbols to move the story along. The most powerful is the foul ball that Owen Meany hits in his last season of Little League. This happens in the first chapter. Owen Meany, the smallest boy in the community and the best friend of Johnny Wheelwright, comes up to bat just when Johnny's mother, Tabitha, is walking by the field. With her back to home plate and while she is standing near third base, she catches someone's eye in the bleacher seats and waves. Owen swings and hits a foul--with a loud crack to the bat. The sound attracts Tabitha's wandering attention. She turns to see who hit such a ball--and it hits her in her left temple, killing her instantly.
Although Owen is filled with remorse, everyone agrees that it was a terrible accident and not his fault. Yet there is the nagging question: what happened to the baseball--the murder weapon? Police Chief Pike is angry that it cannot be found. If it killed someone, then he should, by law, have possession of it. He also insists that the Little League players stand behind the bleachers while the police take photographs of Tabitha Wheelwright. Several of the townspeople also stand with the Little Leaguers.
Over the years, Johnny will reconstruct that scene: who was standing behind the bleachers and who had gone home. He has a theory that the person his mother waved to before she died was his father. Johnny knows he's illegitimate and he is angry with his mother for dying before she could tell him who his father was. He keeps trying to figure out who in the crowd that day was his father.
Johnny assumes that Owen took the baseball that killed his mother. Owen is a collector of many things, so it would be natural that he would take the ball. He does not hold it against Owen. He knows that Owen loved Tabitha as much as he did. However, toward the end of the story, it is revealed that the ball is ...