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.)