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Literature / The Cider House Rules

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Referred to as his "most didactic novel", The Cider House Rules (1985) is the sixth novel by John Irving. It centers around the story of Homer Wells, an orphan in the Maine town of St. Cloud's, and his caretakers: the resident doctor and head of the boy's division, Dr. Wilbur Larch, and his two aides, Nurse Angela and Nurse Edna. Dr. Larch raises Homer and trains him in obstetrics, but Homer is reluctant due to his mentor's performance of illegal abortions at the hospital, which Homer is morally opposed to. The novel highlights the importance of personal convictions and purpose and weighs the two sides of the abortion debate.

The book was made into a 1999 film directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Michael Caine, Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron.


The book and film provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The film leaves out quite a bit of the story, and takes place over a much shorter time period.
  • Adapted Out: Many characters due to the Adaptation Distillation, but primarily Melony, Angel, and Nurse Caroline.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: Deconstructed. Most of the period medical information is taken from the notebook of John Irving's grandfather, a doctor from the same time period the story is set. The book compares Dr. Larch's medical and ethical practices to the quackery of the day while simultaneously examining how much these techniques have and have not changed.
  • Badass Crew/Ragtag Bunch of Misfits/Five-Man Band: The apple pickers.
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  • Blessed with Suck: Homer, an orphaned teen with no medical license, just happens to be really great at performing abortions—something he is morally opposed to doing.
  • Bury Your Gays: Melony.
  • But We Used a Condom: Wally and Candy used a condom which turns out to have been sabotaged. Later, Homer and Candy..
  • Catchphrase /Arc Words:
    • "Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England."
    • "Let us be happy for (name). (Name) has found a family. Good night, (name)."
    • The latter become a Meaningful Echo when Fuzzy dies, as the otherwise sternly pragmatic Larch chooses to allow the other children to believe that Fuzzy has been adopted rather than break the news that he is dead, while the former becomes so when Homer begins to use it after Larch's death.
  • Celibate Hero: After a youthful sexual encounter leaves him with incurable and painful STD, Dr. Larch chooses celibacy to prevent spreading the disease. Later on, once he witnesses the potentially tragic consequences of sex (incest, orphans, abortions, and the desperate conditions of sex workers, among other things), it becomes more of a deliberate ethical decision.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Homer's narrative revolves around the question of whether or not he has a moral obligation to use his skill as an abortionist to save lives.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: None of Homer's several attempted adoptions work out. It's like fate wants him to be an orphan. In the most extreme example, his final adoption, which actually seems to be going okay, ends when his adoptive parents are swept away in a freak flood right in front of him. Young Homer shrugs and walks back to orphanage, where Larch finally seems to accept that Homer was meant to stay there.
  • Fanservice: In the movie, Charlize Theron has a nude scene.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Mr. Rose, with his knife. Also a Chekhov's Skill.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted with Candy and Wally, but later played straight with Candy and Homer.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Mrs. Eames "rhymes with 'screams!'" for a reason.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Fuzzy, a fetal alcohol syndrome patient, is confined to an oxygen tent due to his damaged heart and severe asthma.
  • Mission from God: Dr. Larch considers both performing abortions and running an orphanage as "the Lord's work".
  • Orphanage of Love: Dr. Larch and his nurses are torn between accepting that most of their orphans will never find homes and trying not to get too attached to them on the off-chance that they do. They usually end up getting attached anyway.
  • Pinball Protagonist: As an orphan, Homer repeatedly goes into the world to find a place where he's needed, but circumstances always seems return him to St. Cloud's. It's only when he realizes St. Cloud's needs him that he finally stops being Fate's pinball.
  • Parental Incest: Mr. Rose and his daughter, Rose Rose.
  • Refusal of the Call: Homer is so morally opposed to abortion that he leaves the orphanage where they are performed.
  • Repetitive Name: Rose Rose.
  • Right Through His Pants: Candy and Homer's first sex scene, in the woods. Including wearing their winter coats.
  • Roadside Surgery: Homer grew up in an orphanage, and was being groomed to follow in the footsteps of Doctor Larch. While earning a living on an apple farm, Homer discovers young Rose is pregnant with her father's child. Because Rose is black, getting a proper medical abortion is highly unlikely. Therefore, Homer agrees to perform the procedure in the pickers' shack (the cider house), using the skills and training gleaned from Doctor Larch.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Mr. Rose's opinion of the Cider House rules.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Dr. Larch's decision to perform illegal abortions at St. Cloud's.
  • Shout-Out: Lots, to Jane Eyre and Dickens.
  • Sink-or-Swim Fatherhood: Dr. Larch's situation after Homer's final adoption failure.
  • The Talk: When the closest thing you have to a parent is an abortionist who runs an orphanage, you're bound to get an interesting version of this.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Melony gives Homer a scathing one after she sees what Homer did during the years the two were separated, calling him out for continuing to have sex with Candy despite Wally being back home, talking Candice into doing it in the first place, and raising the product of their adultery right under Wally's nose, all while acting like the moral superiority in the family. This utterly breaks the Smug Snake mentality Homer had going for over fifteen years and forces him to realize he emotionally manipulated a grieving woman to cheat on her boyfriend who she thought had died not a few months prior to act.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: The orphanage nurses assign their infant charges temporary names, many of which end up being permanent. This gets awkward when one of the nurses tends to name the boys after her many cats, resulting in children named Fuzzy, Snowy, and Smoky.


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