The Cider House Rules Characters

John Irving

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

John Irving has said that he wanted in The Cider House Rules to write about a person he “absolutely” admired. Therefore, Wilbur Larch is presented in terms designed to bring the reader extremely close to the character, making his actions admirable, his moral decisions beyond the motives of personal pleasure, his personality extremely congenial, and his human complexity sufficiently realistic so that he does not become a simplistic hero. There is a comfortable quality about Larch, in spite of his rage against brutality and mendacity, that begins with his extraordinary warmth and decency—his genuine, heartfelt caring for human suffering, the vital capacity to share the pain of his patients that all doctors should possess.

The groundwork for the advancing action that covers nearly a century is the introduction of the social conditions that shape Larch as a youth and young medical student. The only other character who is treated with anything like the same thoroughness is Homer Wells, Larch’s surrogate son, an orphan never officially adopted but a member of Larch’s “family” at St. Cloud’s. Like Larch, Homer is observed practically from birth, the social circumstances of his upbringing both within and outside St. Cloud’s serving to form him. Larch’s desire to see him as a worthy successor operates both as a source of strength and as an obstacle to his development as an individual. Irving illustrates the affinities and similarities...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Wilbur Larch

Wilbur Larch, an obstetrician and abortionist. As a young doctor, he decides to forge a medical career helping desperate, helpless, and usually poor young women terminate their pregnancies in supportive surroundings or, if they choose, deliver children whom he will try to place in proper foster homes. He has accepted as the burden and blessing of his life the administration of St. Cloud’s orphanage, which he operates as a kind of home to an extended family of life’s victims. He is completely and unselfishly committed to his chosen task as a healer in the largest sense, and he accepts his responsibilities as a sort of symbolic father to the inhabitants of the orphanage. In the tradition of the practical New Englander, he sees his life goal as “being of use” to humanity. His experiences have shown him that the laws and conventions of society often are diametrically opposed to the requirements of human need, so that he is willing to resist unjust rules in accordance with his own firm moral standards. In spite of his deep convictions, he is understanding and tolerant of others’ opinions. His ultimate goal is to provide a “family” of some kind—a center of love and respect—for all those who have not had the good fortune to be born into satisfactory circumstances. Through his long and productive life, he epitomizes the qualities that a true practitioner of the healing arts must possess: a heartfelt concern for human suffering, a vital capacity to share the tribulations of his patients, a rage against the pain he cannot cure, and a warmth that radiates the spiritual decency his life represents. Known appropriately as “St. Larch” by his admiring colleagues, he is an organizer of a community of compassion that is both a family and a kind of temple to serve the needs of humanity.

Homer Wells

Homer Wells, an orphan who can never satisfactorily leave the...

(The entire section is 787 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In The Cider House Rules, more than any other of Irving's novels, there is a sharp demarcation between the complex, realistic — if,...

(The entire section is 283 words.)