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Free Study Guide: The Cider House Rules by John Irving

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FREE PLOT SUMMARY: THE CIDER HOUSE RULES BY JOHN IRVING

CHAPTER 3 - Princes of Maine, Kings of New England

Summary

Larch gives Homer the responsibility of doing the bedtime reading. He began with David Copperfield, and every night Homer would murmur its opening passage to himself: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” Every night after the reading, Larch would open the door and bid the boys goodnight with these words: “Good night you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England!”

Homer never imagined leaving St. Cloud’s. The kings he dreamed of reigned in the court of St. Cloud’s. To Homer, this was still uplifting and full of hope. Kingly behavior was possible even at St. Cloud’s for Larch was Homer’s king and he Larch’s prince.

Homer recalls how Larch explained that some women came to have babies to put up for adoption and other women, who were “very strong,” came to have abortions. “I’m just the doctor,” Larch said, “I help them have what they want. An orphan or an abortion.”

Homer was such a successful reader that the girls asked that he read to them as well. He began to read to the girls division every night, beginning with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. All the girls except Melony were concealed under their covers when Homer arrived to read. Melony was older and bigger than Homer. She sat on top of her covers in her too small clothing. Melony was a very big, solid girl. Homer hoped she didn’t sense how he liked her fatness. Fatness to an orphan was good fortune. Melony was very angry. Jane Eyre’s sweetness often caused her to groan and once even to cry out violently in anger.

The older orphans had habits that irritated Homer and contributed to his insomnia. The most irritating of which was Fuzzy Stone. Fuzzy was a weak, sickly child. He slept inside a humidified tent that made noise throughout the night. When Fuzzy’s coughing was too much, Homer would seek out the nursery to sleep. In doing so, he passed the mothers’ room. Many were often awake when he passed. One expectant mother had him listen to her baby, pressing his head hard against her stomach. She said that no one should have a baby if there was no one who wanted to feel it kick or listen to it move. She fell asleep with his head against her belly. He heard the sound of her water breaking. He knew she had a girl, but never knew which orphan it was. This did not deter him from searching for her amongst the other girls. “The oldest game that orphans play is imaging their parents are looking for them.” Homer knew that this little girl’s parents weren’t looking for her, and he felt that it was better to have someone looking for her, even if it was just another orphan.

Homer and Larch talked about Melony’s anger. Melony had been left at the orphanage when she was 4 or 5. She didn’t speak until she was 8 or 9. She had been to and returned from more foster homes than Homer. Larch told Homer that asking Melony about her experiences might help her release some of her anger. But as soon as he said it, Larch instantly regretted it. The first family returned her for repeatedly biting the family dog. Melony ran away from the 2nd and 3rd families, alleging the men in the families had a sexual interest in her. The fourth family claimed Melony had taken an interest in a younger female child. The husband and wife of the fifth family separated because of Melony’s relationship with the father. Finally, the husband of the sixth family died shortly after Melony arrived, and the wife felt unequipped to raise Melony alone. Larch didn’t want Homer to hear the details of the stories or Melony’s rationalizations. Larch was right to be concerned: Melony began her education of Homer the next evening by mooning him. She gave Homer the nickname Sunshine.

Dr. Larch often found solace in ether, which he administered to himself in the dispensary. Melony suggested to Homer that Larch didn’t simply smell of ether but rather he had ether instead of blood.


Homer and Melony often sat on the porch of one of the abandon buildings, once a dormitory for the saw-mill workers and lumber men. One day Melony asked him to get the file that she believed Dr. Larch must be keeping on her and the file on Homer as well. These files would tell them who their parents were. In return, she gave him a pornographic picture of a woman and a pony and told Homer she would do what the woman was doing to the pony--fellatio.

Unknown to Melony, it was Larch’s policy to destroy all records of an orphan’s natural mother. An orphan’s file began with the date of his or her birth. Larch felt it was in the best interest of the orphans. Larch also believed that orphans should be adopted before becoming a teenager so that they should be loved before they became deceitful. A teenager discovers deceit. If not adopted and loved, the orphan may never grow out of this phase of deceit, deceiving himself and others forever. This would not be the case with Homer for he was loved by Nurses Angela and Edna and Dr. Larch. But Melony was different. When Homer asked what she would do if she found her mother, Melony, without hesitation told him she would kill her.

Melony was quite upset with Homer’s response that the records were not to be found and angry at Larch for playing God. Larch did play God, and he even admitted it in his diary. Larch felt that much of life was left to chance and that a man should seize moments to play God. In anger, Melony tried to destroy what she could of the abandon house. After her rage eased, she made Homer promise to stay at St. Cloud’s as long as she stayed. As a reward, Melony performed fellatio on Homer, but all Homer could think of was the abused woman and the insensitive pony. He failed to sustain an arousal, which made Melony even madder. He left the abandon home, as Melony continued to destroy it.

The photograph of the woman and pony had been found under Homer’s mattress, passed onto a few boys, taken by Nurse Angela, and given to Dr. Larch. Larch, imbibing ether in the dispensary, was not upset that Homer had the picture. What bothered Larch was that the woman in the picture was Miss Eames, who died after he had refused to give her an abortion. When Homer arrived in the dispensary, Larch had had too much ether. He laughed hysterically when he told Homer that, if he was old enough to have this picture, he was old enough to become his assistant in performing obstetrical surgery. Larch kept the picture of Miss Eames and the pony to remind him of his mistakes. The next day he gave Homer a copy of Gray’s Anatomy and his personal handbook and notebooks from medical school. Homer began his medical education.

Larch was not happy with Melony’s hold on Homer. He assumed they had slept together and that Melony was forcing him to continue, which was not true. In time, they would sleep together. However, the hold Melony had on Homer was balanced by Homer’s hold on Melony: his promise to her.

Melony seemed humiliated and defeated. There was no record of her history, she had failed to excite Homer, and now that they were sleeping together it appeared that Homer quickly took having sex with her for granted.

After these experiences with Melony and witnessing his first live birth, Homer appreciated the anxiety of Jane Eyre. It was shortly after these events that Homer read the passage where orphan Jane Eyre imagines what it might be like to leave the orphanage and realize the world is wide. He then read the line: “I tired of the routine of eight years in one afternoon.” Melony asked him to read the line again. She said she knew exactly how Jane feels; Homer did too. Melony cried with her head in Mrs. Grogan’s lap. The only thing that Melony said to him after hearing that passage from Jane Eyre was to remind him of his promise to never leave before she does.

John Wilbur, the bedwetter was adopted, and Fuzzy Stone died. Larch wondered how he had not noticed that Homer had changed and that he needed to teach him how to shave. Larch would write in his A Brief History of St. Cloud’s how he resented fatherhood. He worried whether he had caused Homer to skip his childhood or whether it was better that, as an orphan, Homer had.

Notes

Irving begins this chapter by debating the ambiguities surrounding the status of a fetus as a living human in Homer’s thoughts. Every night, Homer would whisper to himself the opening passage of David Copperfield: “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life...” It was reciting this passage that he remembered the fetus he’d found by the incinerator and he thought: “(That thing he had held in his hand could not have been a hero.)” First, note the parenthesis that Irving places this thought in, as if it were almost an after thought. Second, Irving uses a phrase filled with finality, “could not have been,” rather than a phrase that might have suggested hope or possibility. Lastly, he refers to the fetus as “that thing” as if nothing human was associated with it. This is Larch’s view.

However, this parenthetical is somewhat balance by another parenthetical just a few paragraphs later: “(That thing Homer had held in his hand was no prince--it hadn’t lived to be king.)” Again, the fetus is referred to as “that thing.” But unlike the first mention, in this passage, the fetus is given some possibility of a future with the words “it hadn’t lived to be king.”

The fetus is more human a few paragraphs later: “(That thing he had held in his hand could not have heard the shoes--it had the smallest, most wrinkled ears!)” Here, we hear more of Homer’s voice and his view developing. The fetus is still “that thing,” but it has features, wrinkled ears, and the sense of hearing associated with it. Hearing is a concrete, universal human characteristic, unlike the notions of hero, prince, and king mentioned in the other passages.

It is also interesting to note that only “very strong” women had abortions, according to Larch. The woman had to be strong enough to make the decision that she couldn’t care for or didn’t want to care for the baby. The woman also had to be strong enough to break the law and face the social stigma associated with abortion. In the case of St. Cloud’s, the woman also had to be strong enough to make the journey by coach or train to the isolated town, a town whose own isolation symbolized the isolation of the women themselves. Except for Candy, a character appearing later in the novel, no woman in the novel comes to St. Cloud’s accompanied by anyone; they all come alone.

Homer grows older in this chapter, but his education is controlled by the people around him, particularly Larch and Melony. Larch tells Homer of the deliverances of both babies and mothers that happens at St. Cloud’s and begins his medical education. Melony begins to educate him sexually. Larch, not used to playing the role of father, is amazed at the end of the chapter how much Homer has grown. And as much as Larch loves Homer, he feels the pressure of fatherhood and the indecision and even resentment that comes with that responsibility.


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