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Free Study Guide: The Cider House Rules by John Irving

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CHAPTER 6 - Ocean View

Summary

Mrs. Grogan believed Melony, now 24 or 25 years old, should have more responsibilities. Dr. Larch agreed to meet with Melony and give her more responsibilities. In the meantime, Larch began to read the mail that he had allowed to pile up since Homer had left. Olive Worthington sent him a donation for the orphanage and praised Homer’s politeness and industriousness. Homer had asked that she send any wages he earned minus his keep to the orphanage.

Mary Agnes, the second oldest girl, had restolen again the barrette she stole from Candy back from Melony. Angry, Melony broke her collarbone. She then met with Larch. Larch asked her if she was interested in working in the hospital. Melony said that “pretty recently” she had heard a bone break. She was not interested in working in the hospital; she thought it would make her sick. When Nursed Edna called Larch to help Mary Agnes, he realized just how recently Melony had heard the bone break. Melony declined his offer to see how broken bones are set.


Melony began to read Little Dorrit. First, she tried to picture the sunshine in Marseilles, and then began daydreaming about Homer. The setting of Little Dorrit moved from the sunshine into a prison, which was “like a well, like a vault, like a tomb.” Melony stopped reading. She stripped off a pillowcase from another bed and stuffed it with toilet articles, clothes, and Jane Eyre. She then robbed Mrs. Grogan of what money she had and took Mrs. Grogan’s winter coat and got on the next train to Livermore. Livermore was easy enough to remember, so when Larch and Grogan came asking, the stupid young stationmaster would be able to tell them where she went. She wondered if she had enough money to get to Portland, Maine, the coast. She thought that the Cadillac with its Ocean View Orchards monogram might be nearby. She was determined to find Homer.

With Homer and Melony gone, Larch again took up the duty of reading to the boys and girls. He tried to read Little Dorrit to the girls but its melancholy was too much. The girls agreed they’d rather wait to hear Jane Eyre. Larch then wrote Olive Worthington a letter explaining that Melony had left with their copy of Jane Eyre and asked that Homer try and get them a secondhand copy in a place that had a bookstore. His letter accomplished two things: Olive Worthington would send them a new copy of Jane Eyre, and Homer would know that Melony had left. Little Dorrit failed to be read by anyone, not even Candy who replaced her stolen copy.

Candy was grateful that Homer was with them on the ride home. She didn’t have to talk to or listen to Wally. At one stop, Homer told them how he’d never seen a lobster. They spent a few minutes laughing and joking about lobsters. He also told Wally that he didn’t know how to drive, and he had never seen the ocean. Wally realized that never seeing the ocean was really sad. Homer laughed with friends for the first time, and then the insomniac fell asleep.

After 6 weeks, Homer finally wrote Larch, but the formal letter was lacking in detail. Larch’s heart was still learning to cope with losing Homer. Larch wanted Homer to be with him but knew he was being unfair. A pattern of correspondence developed between Homer and Larch. Homer would send Larch a brief letter that gave him a glimpse of his new life, and within a day, Larch would send Homer a long letter filled with questions that went unanswered and the gossip of the orphanage.

Senior Worthington’s mental state continued to deteriorate. He was becoming increasingly short-tempered and irritable, and his short-term memory was failing fast. But his long-term memory was intact, and he told Homer many stories.

Homer learned to swim. He went to his first movie. He loved the other people that worked at the orchard. He learned about mowing the grass between the rows of trees and all about the bees that helped to pollinate the trees. He decided he preferred apple farming to delivering babies. At St. Cloud’s growth was unwanted; but in the orchard, the business was growing things and everything was of use. Nothing reminded him of St. Cloud’s until the day he entered the cider house (where the colored migrant workers lived during picking season) and saw the two long rows of iron hospital-style beds, unpainted plywood shelves, and shabby furniture.

He and the other workers began to clean the cider house. Homer stayed behind when they left for lunch. After eating, he rolled down one of the mattresses and masturbated. Then, he realized that Grace Lynch, the almost invisible, abused, battered woman, was lying with her back turned to him on another bed. Even if she hadn’t watched him, she’d certainly heard him. He went outside and rinsed the semen from his hand in the rain. When he returned, Grace was standing by the window. He had to look twice to see her. If he hadn’t known she was in the room, he would have missed her. Softly, she told Homer that she’d been to St. Cloud’s and wondered how he managed to get a night’s sleep there. She was thin, brittle, shivering, and uninviting, but Homer was drawn to her. “At St. Cloud’s, one grew accustomed to victims, and the attitude of a victim shone stronger than reflected sunlight from Grace Lynch.” He went to her and held her limp, damp hands. She put her head on his chest, stuck a sharp knee between his legs, twisted her hip into him, and slipped a hand into his pants. She told him it was dangerous here. Suddenly, the other workers returned from lunch, and Grace sprang from him like a startled cat. On the ride back, Homer knew that whatever was dangerous had not left Grace and that no matter how far he traveled, the victims of St. Cloud’s would never leave him.

That night Homer went on his first date with a girl named Debra Pettigrew, another orchard worker. It was also his first time at a drive in movie. Debra was from a large family in both number and size. She smelled nice and looked neater and cleaner than she did at the apple mart. She was a nice girl though not very smart. She could hope to marry someone as pleasant as herself though not a great deal older or smarter. Her family had moved into the house when it was new, but they had soon made it look almost ramshackle with old cars and many dogs. Wally was critical of Debra and her family, but as soon as she entered the car, he was very pleasant to her. Homer felt this hypocrisy forcefully. At St. Cloud’s criticism was plainer, harsher, and impossible to conceal.

After watching an hour of the movie in amazement, while Wally and Candy disappeared down in the front seat and Debra stared at him and then finally kissed him, Homer finally realized the true purpose of a drive-in movie. He tentatively kissed Debra and learned the yes/no rules of the dating game. He managed to turn his neck and eyes so he could still watch the movie. A woman captured by pirates was being saved, and Homer realized that, despite the attempts of the pirates and her hero, no one was every going to have sex with woman and neither would he or Wally. They would only get some affection. It was at this moment that he realized that he remembered the affection of Dr. Larch and Nurses Edna and Angela, and he started crying. He also realized that he loved Dr. Larch more than anyone else in his life and he missed him, but at the same time, he hoped he’d never set foot in St. Cloud’s again. His three companions mistook his crying for being about the movie, and they all tried to comfort him. Candy even kissed him near the ear, surprising herself and Homer. Her kiss of friendship felt very different than Debra’s kisses. He realized looking at Wally that this feeling he had from her kiss had come from nowhere and had nowhere to go. Homer felt like the black Bedouin that appeared on the camel in the desert at the very beginning of the movie never to be seen again. He was from nowhere, going nowhere; he had no home.

Curly Day was adopted by a young couple. Neither Larch nor Curly were enthusiastic about the couple, but Curly, now the oldest male orphan with Homer gone, wanted to leave St. Cloud’s badly, and Larch was not sure Curly could take another winter there. When Larch wrote Homer of Curly’s adoption, it upset Homer and brought back memories, which he told Wally and Candy. Afterwards, Homer wrote Larch his longest letter yet and tried to express how he missed him, but at the same time, that he didn’t want to come back. He ended his letter inexactly by saying that he remembered when he kissed him; he had not been asleep. Larch wondered why he had never kissed him more.

In August of 194_, the board of trustees including two new young members met at St. Cloud’s. The two new members were insistent that Larch now in his 70s and his nurses now in their 50s and 60s needed help. Larch was concerned that they were going to replace him with someone who would not perform abortions. So to prevent this overtaking, Larch continued his fictitious story of Fuzzy Stone, which was really his story for Homer Wells. He wrote letters from Fuzzy to himself stating how he was getting along with his medical practice and how he, that is, Fuzzy Stone, would never perform abortions. Fuzzy, even suggested that when it was time for Larch to retire, he would replace him at St. Cloud’s. Larch had created a replacement for himself, one who would abide by the abortion laws. Everything was ready for Homer’s return from his summer job. He just wondered how he could get Homer to come back.

At the same time, Homer was wondering how he could stay in Heart’s Haven now that he was in love with Candy. And Candy was wondering what she would do if Homer stayed and what she would do if he didn’t stay.

Notes

Irving moves us from the isolation of St. Cloud’s into society. In Heart’s Haven and Heart’s Rock, Homer begins to experience what life outside an orphanage is like. But, even as Homer learns new things, he realizes that he cannot forget the old and that St. Cloud’s will always be with him. This is shown in the episode with Grace Lynch. Grace abused and battered is a victim, like the orphans at St. Cloud’s, like Homer. Grace reminds Homer that no matter how far he traveled, the victims of St. Cloud’s would never leave him.

The rift between Homer and Dr. Larch grows as Homer experiences other things and learns to be independent of Larch and St. Cloud’s. Irving shows us that it is much like a son growing up. The father knows he has to let go and that his son needs new experiences, but he loves his son so much it’s hard to let go. Irving shows how deeply Larch loves Homer. It is hard for Homer as well. He, too, loves Larch and misses him, but at the same time, he does not want to return to St. Cloud’s. At the end of the chapter, the issue of choice appears again. Summer is nearing its end, and Homer has to choose whether to leave or stay.

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