Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In an interview shortly after The Cider House Rules was published, Irving stated, “It is a book with a polemic.” In accordance with George Orwell’s dictum that “All art is propaganda but not all propaganda is art,” however, Irving has utilized two of the dominant modes of the novelist’s art to frame his argument. The more prominent is Irving’s debt (and homage) to Charles Dickens, whose conception of the novel as an arena for the exploration of dynamic social issues is apparent in the manner in which The Cider House Rules uses institutional rigidity, the tyranny of class consciousness, and the redemptive faculties of the extended family as focal points for its examination of the controversy surrounding abortion rights. The other, less familiar mode has its origins in the eighteenth century concern for the “Man of Feeling” featured in the work of such writers as Henry Fielding and Lawrence Sterne, whose protagonists acted out of a fusion of emotion and intellect that emphasized the heart (or passions) as important measures of moral justice. The two modes are joined throughout the narrative, as the decisions and choices Larch and Wells make are presented as the consequences of their formative contacts with American society. Neither man begins with any specific agenda other than a feeling for human suffering and a desire to alleviate it. Larch arrives at his chosen profession through his eye-opening experiences with women who are...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

The Cider House Rules Themes

Two major themes, neither of them new in Irving's fiction, dominate The Cider House Rules. One is the individual human being's...

(The entire section is 247 words.)