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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:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • The first couple that adopted Homer as an infant returned him because he didn't make any noise or cry. After returning him, they ask Dr. Larch if they could see someone else to adopt.
    • The second couple to adopt Homer as a toddler got him to make noise by beating him. Once they had beaten him, he couldn't stop crying so they returned him to St. Clouds orphanage.
    • Arthur Rose sexually abuses his own daughter Rose, leading to her becoming pregnant.
  • 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.
  • Betty and Veronica: Wally (the Betty) and Homer (the Veronica) over Wally's wife Candy (the Archie).
  • Blatant Lies: Arthur denies it when Homer asks him questions, knowing about the sexual abuse Arthur inflicted on Rose. Then he snaps and makes a bunch of excuses.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dr. Larch is dead and Homer and Candy part ways due to her marriage to Wally. But Homer returns to the orphanage as the new doctor and caretaker of the orphans like Dr. Larch before him. And Rose got to escape her abuser.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Arthur Rose is a charming hardworking apple picker who sexually abuses his own daughter.
  • 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.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Rose stabs her abusive father before running away to freedom.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: When Rose stabs her father Arthur and runs away, Arthur begs Homer and Dr. Larch not to go to the police and to instead tell the police that his impending death from the stab was a suicide. Ultimately sparing Rose of the crime.
  • Face Death with Dignity: After being stabbed by Rose, Arthur accepts his fate and goes out quietly while telling Homer not to alert the police about Rose.
  • Fanservice: In the movie, Charlize Theron has a nude scene. Also, Homer and Candy's first time together having sex in the woods.
  • Fastest Gun in the West: Mr. Rose, with his knife. Also a Chekhov's Skill.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Arthur Rose hovering over his daughter, fixing her hair and insisting that she doesn't need new clothes.
    • Rose's attitude changing after she and the rest orchard pickers return. Rose always isolating herself from the group. Rose always quiet and not as talkative. As Peaches notes, "She ain't hungry every morning, cause she's sick every morning.".
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Averted with Candy and Wally, but later played straight with Candy and Homer. Played straight with Rose who didn't want to become pregnant. Justified due to incest and rape.
  • He Knows Too Much: Why Arthur Rose fired Jimmy and he didn't return with the rest of the orchard pickers. Might have something to do with the situation between him and his daughter Rose.
  • Incest-ant Admirer: Arthur Rose towards his daughter Rose. She is repulsed by him.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Mrs. Eames "rhymes with 'screams!'" for a reason.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Homer decides to walk away after Candy's husband Wally returns from the war so that they could be happy together.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: After sexually abusing his own daughter and getting her pregnant, Arthur is stabbed by Rose and left to bleed out.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Fuzzy, a fetal alcohol syndrome patient, is confined to an oxygen tent due to his damaged heart and severe asthma.
  • Love Triangle: Wally/Candy/Homer.
  • Mission from God: Dr. Larch considers both performing abortions and running an orphanage as "the Lord's work".
  • Morning Sickness: What Rose suffers due to an unplanned pregnancy, as one of the orchard pickers notices.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Candy when she finds out who the father of Rose's baby is.
    • Arthur Rose, when he is confronted by Homer with knowledge about the situation and when he is told Rose is pregnant with his baby.
  • Open Secret: The orchard pickers knew about Arthur Rose's incest with his daughter Rose. Homer confronts him about this.
  • 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.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Rose changing from a happy attentive social girl to a self-isolating quiet person when she returns.
  • Papa Wolf: As Arthur tells Homer, he loves his daughter Rose. Maybe too much.
  • 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.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Rose escapes the first chance she gets after stabbing her father Arthur.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop: Homer reads them the posted rules of the Cider House, the workers observe the rules have been made without the occupants' consent by people who do not live there and so do not face their problems. Consequently, they feel that they can ignore them.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: Homer and Candy discover that Rose Rose the apple-picker is pregnant and is considering an abortion. Candy tries to talk to Rose about it but she refuses to name the father. Her father, Arthur, comes in and Rose's submissive attitude around him lets Candy put two and two together by the next scene: