Free Study Guide: The Cider House Rules by John Irving

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CHAPTER 4 - Young Dr. Wells


Dr. Larch writes that there is no society at St. Cloud’s. There are no choices or comparisons. Homer had no choice when he became Larch’s apprentice or in his relationship with Melony. After exhausting the tutors brought to St. Cloud’s, there was no choice but to become Larch’s assistance. And as Larch’s assistant, there was no choice but to learn obstetrical procedures. There was also no choice but Melony for Homer to develop a sexual relationship with because she was the only person there his age.

Before the age of 20, Homer had been a midwife to countless births and a surgical apprentice to many abortions. Larch had not allowed Homer to perform an abortion, believing that Homer should attend real medical school before doing so and that Homer’s choice should be involved. For it to be Homer’s choice, Homer would have to know something about society of which there was none in St. Cloud’s. Larch wanted someone outside St. Cloud’s to sponsor Homer’s education.

Melony and Homer were now like some loveless married couple. If they had intercourse, it was infrequent and without enthusiasm. Larch sensed there wordless, joyless pact. Larch had secured Melony a job as live-in help to an old invalid. Neither the woman nor Melony enjoyed it. Melony wanted to come back to the orphanage at night. Melony got another job delivering parts and tools for a building contractor but was fired when she could not account for over 200 miles on the truck.

Larch loved Homer and wanted him to experience society and then choose to come back to St. Cloud’s, which assumed that Homer would want to choose to come back.

Heart’s Haven and Heart’s Rock were two towns in Maine separated by only 5 miles. But, the rich inhabitants of Heart’s Haven looked down upon their Heart’s Rock’s neighbors except Wallace “Senior” Worthington, the owner of the Ocean View Orchards. The people of Heart’s Rock also respected Worthington because he employed many of them. Worthington’s wife, Olive, was a native of Heart’s Haven, but even Heart’s Haven had a wrong part of town, and that’s where Olive was from. She was born Alice Bean, the daughter of a clam digger. She married Worthington and legally changed her name to Olive. Her brother Bucky, a well digger, had paid for her college education. He was the only person that called her Alice to her face. Though cheerful and fun loving, Worthington appeared drunk all the time and was hyperactive and restless. Everyone assumed he was hard to live with. Olive and Senior had one son, Wally, who was as handsome and charming as his father.

If Larch had known of the gossip and class struggle, he may not have let Homer go to Heart’s Haven and Heart’s Rock. He also would have recognized that Worthington was not a drunk but suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The town also misjudged Olive. She knew what work was. She hired the right people for their apple orchard and treated them well. She had a thriving business selling apple pies and apple pie blossom honey. She also took courses and learned everything there was about the growing of apples. She ran the orchard.

Homer was growing tired of Melony and his promise to stay. He was on his third journey through Gray’s Anatomy and his fourth reading of Jane Eyre. This time through the reading of Jane Eyre, Homer copied the line: “It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” He typed this passage and placed it on Larch’s chest as he slept under the influence of ether.

Homer practiced surgical techniques on three female cadavers Larch acquired for him. While working on one cadaver, Homer was interrupted by a woman suffering from convulsions brought on by eclampsia. Larch, at the time, was at the train station, attempting to pick up the third cadaver. But the St. Cloud’s stationmaster refused to give it to Larch, so he followed the cadaver to several stations before retrieving it. In the meantime, Homer administered the proper medical care and saved the woman and her baby. The baby was put up for adoption. Homer slept soundly after the 40-hour ordeal. He pretended to be asleep when Larch came in. He cried silently when he received his first fatherly kisses (for Larch kissed him twice) and heard Larch’s words: “Good work, my boy.” Homer named the new orphan David Copperfield. These were the first kisses Larch had given anyone since his night with Mrs. Eames. Larch wondered what he would do when Homer left.

Young Wally Worthington fell in love with a lobsterman’s daughter. Raymond Kendall was an extraordinarily profitable lobsterman and an expert at fixing things. His lobster pound and dock was an eyesore on the harbor front. It was filled with lobster pots being repaired and various trucks, cars, and many other things in the progress of being repaired. His place was noisy and smelled of lobster and oil. Ray was an artist, and this was his studio. The Haven Club members complained that he ruined their view, but they did not complain too much for he fixed their things as well. It was rumored he had more money than Worthington, but the only evidence that was true was what he spent on his daughter. His daughter went to a private boarding school like the children of the Haven Club members, and she herself was a member. Ray was also employed by the Worthington’s as a mechanic. He kept the vehicles and machinery of the orchards running. Olive said that the orchard could survive without a lot of things but not without Ray.

Candice “Candy” Kendall, Ray’s daughter, was not a Candy at all. She was lovely but never falsely sweet. She was reliable, friendly, practical, courteous, energetic, and “substantial in an argument without ever being shrill.” She combined her father’s work ethic with education and refinement. “She took to both labor and sophistication with ease.” Olive was suspicious of the girls that dated Wally, but she liked Candy and thought that she might be too good for her son, whom she did not feel was industrious. However, Candy’s perfect love for her mother, who died in childbirth, made Olive feel guilty about how much she despised her own family.

Everyone knew that Candy and Wally were the perfect couple; they just wondered what took them so long to realize it. Ray approved of Wally and liked Olive’s respect for work. Candy thought Olive would be the perfect mother-in-law and dreamed that if her mother had lived she would have been like Olive. Both Wally and if she chose to, Candy, would finish college and then marry. But there was a war in Europe, which many people believed would involve the United States soon.

Larch too worried about the war and that Homer might be the right age to go. Larch, as the only historian of St. Cloud’s, took precautions to make sure that Homer wouldn’t go. Larch had created fictional histories of the few orphans that had died in his care, providing their lives with happy endings. Fuzzy Stone, in fact, lived the life Larch wanted for Homer. In Fuzzy’s fictional history, he became a doctor that attended Larch’s alma maters and even interned at the hospitals Larch had worked at. What Larch wrote about Homer Wells’ history was that he had a heart defect, which would prevent him from being drafted into a war. If it became necessary, Larch would tell Homer that his heart wouldn’t stand up to war. But what Larch really meant was that his heart could not stand up to Homer’s going to war. In fact, in an entry into Homer’s file, which he later removed, Larch wrote: “I love nothing or no one as much as I love Homer Wells. Period.”

Neither Wally nor Candy was prepared for the pregnancy that could derail their perfect plans. They were so full of their own rightness for each other that they had not foreseen that an accident, such as an early pregnancy, could happen. They were stunned. Neither Wally nor Candy had to go to college. Wally would still inherit the apple orchards, and Candy would still educate and refine herself. Candy told Wally that they just weren’t ready. Wally, however, would have married Candy at any time. But, Wally admitted that if the United States was pulled into war, he would go. Candy slapped Wally when he told her he’d have to go to war for the experience of doing so.

They agreed not to have the child, and Wally went about seeking a doctor by asking some of the apple orchard workers. Grace Lynch, an abused and battered wife who cowered with fear when anyone talked to her, told him about St. Cloud’s. Wally convinced his mother to give them the day off. They would leave earlier in the morning for St. Cloud’s. That night neither of them slept. Neither Homer nor Larch could sleep that night either. Seeing Homer walking outside, Larch joined him. A strange wind, a rare sea breeze, entered St. Cloud’s. Both men wondered what would happen to them.


Choices, or perhaps the lack of, take center stage in this chapter. Irving opens this chapter by discussing what few choices Homer had because of the isolation of St. Cloud’s. In fact, Homer had no choices. He could not choose to be anything other than Larch’s assistance. There was nothing else in St. Cloud’s that he could do. As a result, Homer’s only option was to learn obstetrical procedures not another branch of medicine. Homer’s only choice for sexual companionship was Melony because she was the only girl in St. Cloud’s his age. Though Irving is talking about Homer, the subject of the lack of choices is easily translated to the issue of abortion when it is illegal.

Women had few choices: have an unwanted baby, have an unsafe abortion, or travel to the isolated town of St. Cloud’s. Despite the women’s lack of choices, it is interesting to note that they still had more choices then Homer. Homer, an unwanted baby left at St. Cloud’s, had even fewer choices then his mother. The only choice Homer had, the one that Dr. Larch could give him, was whether or not to perform abortions. Dr. Larch wanted that to be Homer’s choice not dictated to him. Larch also knew that, in order for Homer to make that choice, he would have to experience society outside of St. Cloud’s. Why? Because outside of St. Cloud’s, Larch’s rules did not exist. Larch’s rules were society’s rules in St. Cloud’s. Homer needed to experience what other societies adopted as their rules, particularly in regard to abortion. Larch knew that, if Homer made the choice to perform abortions, it would bring him back to St. Cloud’s.

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