Free Study Guide: The Cider House Rules by John Irving

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CHAPTER 5 - Homer Breaks a Promise


The strange wind also disturbed the stationmaster, a man haunted by his intense fears. These fears were brought on by his crackpot mail-order religion, and at night, his fears mixed his religious magazine with the mail-order catalog he received. The strange wind awoke the stationmaster. He got up and dressed himself and began walking about St. Cloud’s because his religious magazine told him that the dead did not invade an active body. He fearfully walked about muttering at every sound. When he saw the long tall shadows of Homer and Larch, he realized that he could run all night but he could not escape. His fear scared him to death. It was several hours before they found his body amongst the weeds near the orphanage.

Melony, too, noticed something different. She had not slept well either. She watched the women coming to the orphanage. She had noticed that they never left with lighter steps than they had come. They always walked away with even heavier footsteps. “Whatever there was that glimmered of wrong, that shone of mistake--of loss, of hope abandoned, of the grim choices that were possible Melony had an eye expertly trained to see this, and more.”

Larch had given Homer the task of autopsying an almost full-term baby. The woman had been stabbed or had stabbed herself, and the baby had been stabbed in the process and had bled to death. Larch wanted Homer to determine exactly how the baby died. As Homer performed the autopsy, he could not help but think that whatever Larch called it--a fetus, an embryo, the products of conception--and whether it was quick or not quick didn’t matter to him. Homer knew that it was alive, and no matter what you call what you do (abortion), you were killing it. He realized it was Larch’s choice and that Larch did what he believed in. Homer didn’t place blame. He also realized that he had a choice. He chose to believe it was a baby.

Homer marched into Larch’s office. Larch was in a trancelike state from the ether. Homer dropped the tray on which laid the baby’s body and told Larch he would never perform abortions. Homer told Larch he did not disapprove of him; he disapproved of it. Larch told Homer it was his choice, and he’d never force Homer to do it. Homer also told Larch that he no longer wanted to be present when abortions were performed. Larch said he’d have to think about that.

David Copperfield Junior, Homer’s miraculous delivery, and Curly Day found the dead stationmaster in the weeds. Homer, Larch, the two nurses, and Melony went to investigate. Melony was happy that something was happening.

They retrieved the body, and Curly Day and David Copperfield were sent to the station to deliver the news. Wally and Candy arrived in St. Cloud’s as Curly and David were at the station. Stopping to ask directions, they picked up the two boys and drove to the orphanage. Melony watched the car pull up and wonder who they were. She could see her reflection in the window pane. Today for the first time, she had seen the constant look of vacantness that she had seen on Homer’s face, and it paralyzed her. She thought of the promise never to leave. As she continued to watch the car, she thought Wally and Candy were too perfect to be here for an abortion, and no one here would be good enough for them to adopt. In the past, she would have had the energy to poke around the Cadillac, but now she didn’t even move from the window.

While the stationmaster body was being found, and Wally and Candy were making their way to the orphanage, two women were waiting for an abortion and one woman was about to give birth. Larch made Homer prep the second woman for the abortion and watch. Larch told him that he believed Homer should participate by watching, lend some amateur assistance, understand the process, and learn how to perform an abortion, even if he chose not to perform it. Larch told Homer he could disapprove, but he could not be ignorant, and he could not be unable to perform an abortion if he were to change his mind.

Larch asked Homer if he was having second thoughts about being a doctor. Homer replied he never had a first thought about being a doctor. He told Larch he did not think he wanted to be a doctor. Larch apologized to Homer for not giving him the opportunity to look at other things. Larch having finished the abortion left the operating room very hurt. In the boys’ bathroom, he splashed water on his face and hoped no one would see his tears. He then heard Curly’s crying and comforted him.

Wally and Candy were handing out jelly and honey to the children. Dr. Larch greeted them. Homer didn’t take his eyes off Candy. Wally talked a mile a minute, uncomfortable in a situation he could not instantly brighten. Candy wanted Wally to stop so they could get to the business of why they were there. Finally, Homer looked into her eyes and he knew. He led her into the hospital. Both Homer and Wally stood in the area of the dispensary. Homer was unaware he was staring at Candy. Finally, Dr. Larch said he would need to explain the procedure to Candy and about the bleeding after. This brought Wally and Homer back to reality, and Homer managed to get Wally out of the hospital before he vomited. They walked along the hill; Homer explaining the procedure, and simultaneously, Wally was describing how to plant an apple orchard on the hill.

Wally suggested Homer drive back to the coast with them, and they could come back and plant some trees. Homer agreed. He began to dream of the coast. Larch thought Homer had met the benefactor that Larch knew he needed. Homer was thinking he had met the “Prince of Maine, the King of New England.”

Melony finally moved into action and went down to the white Cadillac to see if there was anything she could steal. She committed her first unselfish act--she stole the book Little Dorrit for Homer. The title meant nothing to her, but the author was Charles Dickens, a hero to Homer.

Homer and Larch were talking about Homer’s leaving with Candy and Wally. Larch was telling Homer that he should not rush back. In fact, he should take this opportunity and make Wally and Candy’s parents like him. Homer should try and get a summer job with them. Dr. Larch’s heart was breaking as he told the nurses how they needed to get Homer as much money and decent clothing as they could scrounge together and how he hoped Homer would not be back in 2 days.

Larch told Candy and Wally about Homer’s fictitious weak heart because he was unable to tell Homer. Homer’s last few moments at the orphanage were tension filled. Larch was trying to keep busy by dealing with the dead stationmaster and mask his anger at losing Homer, but it seeped through. He wanted to tell Homer how much he loved him, but he couldn’t find the words. He wanted to hug and kiss Homer but needed to maintain his self-control. So he said nothing and left Homer to clean the room where Candy had had her abortion.

Melony inscribed the book she’d stolen for Homer: “To Homer ‘Sunshine’ Wells For the Promise you made me love, Melony.”

Homer entered the dispensary where Larch was performing the autopsy on the stationmaster. “I love you,” he said. Larch replied, “I love you, too, Homer.”

As Homer passed by Melony’s window in the Cadillac, he turned to her. He would not have been able to lie to her, and she would have known instantly that he was breaking his promise.

The nightly readings by Melony to the girls and Nurse Angela to the boys were not successful. And Nurses Edna’s shrill recitation of the nightly benediction, “Good night, you Princes of Maine! You Kings of New England!” only brought sobs and questions of Where’s Homer? Dr. Larch, who refused to leave his office, sat at his typewriter composing in his mind the first of many letters he would write to Homer: please be healthy, please be happy, please be careful.


The effect of the lack of choices is felt by Dr. Larch and Homer in this chapter. As Homer performs the autopsy on the dead baby, Homer comes to a decision. Homer decides that, if Larch has a choice, he has a choice, too. Homer chooses to see “it” as alive. To Homer, it is a baby. He chooses not to perform abortions. In making this decision, Homer does not place blame nor does he try to convert Larch to seeing things his way. Homer realized that Larch was doing what he believed in, and Homer could find no fault or blame in that.

When Homer tells Larch his position, Larch takes the stand that Homer should continue to be involved in the process. Larch believes that Homer should be competent and not ignorant. He notes Homer’s disapproval but is insistent that Homer be capable of performing an abortion if the need should arise. This culminates in Homer, unintentionally, hurting Larch’s feelings. Larch suggests the Homer is having second thoughts about being a doctor, and Homer replies that he never had a first thought. This breaks Larch’s heart. Again, in the isolation of St. Cloud’s, the choices open to Homer were few or none. Could Larch teach him to be anything but a doctor of obstetrics?

This rift between the doctor and his protégé and more importantly between a father and a son allows Homer to choose to leave St. Cloud’s. Homer needs to leave St. Cloud’s because he needs to experience the world beyond the orphanage, and both he and Larch know this. But, the fact that Homer has decided that he cannot perform abortions makes the decision to leave easier to make.

In this chapter, Irving again reiterates that the need for an abortion crosses all social and class boundaries. It is the young, rich, and the outwardly perfect Candy and Wally that need an abortion in this chapter.

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