Written as a tribute to the decency and dedication of the most impressive practitioners of the medical profession, The Cider House Rules is a multigenerational chronicle covering the life of Wilbur Larch, who as a young doctor is drawn by compassion and judgment to forge a career as an obstetrician and abortionist. Accepting an appointment as the director of St. Cloud’s, an isolated, under-equipped orphanage in Maine, Larch struggles with the moral questions, medical challenges, and social difficulties involved in helping desperate, frightened, and usually penurious women whose pregnancies require, in his estimation, either termination or an expert, comfortable birth. His acceptance of the obligations involved in providing a proper home, either within or beyond the orphanage, for the children he delivers is the burden and blessing of his long life as a man who, in the spirit of the practical New Englander, wants to be of use to humanity.
Larch moves almost incidentally toward his life’s work through a series of circumstances arising from accidents of timing and his upbringing. Once settled at St. Cloud’s, he commits himself completely to his task as healer and symbolic father to an extended family of life’s victims. His own experiences with social hypocrisy and human frailty have convinced him that social conventions are often detrimental to people’s most fundamental needs, but his choices to work beyond the legalities of society are guided by a moral compass that is set firmly in accordance with a higher law. Surrounded by faithful, adoring associates—Nurse Angela, Nurse Edna, and Mrs. Grogan—Larch struggles with the nearly impossible task of giving every orphan an opportunity to find a family built on love and respect.
The obstacles he faces are epitomized by his attempts to train Homer Wells, an orphan who can never completely settle into a life beyond the orphanage, to be his successor and the carrier of his legacy of care and encouragement. While Larch knows instinctively that Homer, like himself, will find his truest satisfaction in service at St. Cloud’s, he understands that Homer must discover this for himself. The central narrative design of the novel thus...
(The entire section is 905 words.)