The Cider House Rules

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In John Irving’s THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, Garp writes a novel about rape, of which a reviewer says: “The women’s movement has at last exhibited a significant influence on a significant male writer.” Although written about his fictional alter ego, Garp, the statement is true about Irving himself.

In THE CIDER HOUSE RULES, Irving again tackles a central issue of the women’s movement--abortion--treating it with great sensitivity and insight. The novel is not a polemical essay but a typical Irving story of zany characters caught up in bizarre events. In the early 1900’s, Dr. Wilbur Larch founds an orphanage in St. Cloud’s, Maine, but soon discovers that caring for unmarried pregnant women involves him in performing abortions. For Dr. Larch, abortion is not an abstract issue but an agonizing dilemma faced by real women in desperate situations. He respects their personal choice: “I’m just the doctor. I help them have what they want. An orphan or and abortion.”

The main character is Homer Wells, a orphan groomed by Dr. Larch as the heir-apparent, compassionate abortionist of St. Cloud’s. Homer, however, deciding that abortions are immoral, refuses to perform them and leaves the orphanage. He goes to a world of apple picking and cider making, which appears to be governed by a simple set of rules tacked to the cider house wall. Homer, however, discovers that his apple-orchard Eden is neither innocent nor simple and that all of his relationships to people--the woman he loves, his son, his best friend, the...

(The entire section is 635 words.)