The Cider House Rules and Society
Each season, a list of rules is posted in the cider house at Ocean View Orchards. The apple picking crew, however, ignores the rules. “We got our own rules,” explains Mr. Rose, the picking crew boss. The rules posted at the cider house stand as a metaphor for the rules of society. As Homer learns for himself when he begins breaking the law to perform abortions, sometimes a person must break the rules in order to do what is right. Rather than blindly follow the rules imposed from the outside, people need to make their own rules to live by.
Names and naming are a motif throughout The Cider House Rules. Names, Irving shows, are rather arbitrary. Some children, such as Melony, get their names by acccident (Melony is a typo of Melody). The whimsical Dickensian names (such as Snowy Meadows or Curly Day) given to the orphans by the nurses are only temporary; the orphans take on new names when they find their permanent families. Homer, too, takes on a new name when he returns to his one true home at St. Cloud’s Orphanage: he becomes Dr. Fuzzy Stone. The taking on of a new name is symbolic of people’s ability to reinvent themselves, throwing off their birth names and identities to become the people they are destined to be.
The Cider House Rules may be described as a coming-of-age tale, or Bildungsroman. The latter is a German term that literally means “novel of formation.” Works such as these show how the protagonist develops from childhood to aduulthood, revealing the events and forces that shape his or her mind and character. The Cider House Rules is in the tradition of such nineteenth-century coming-of-age novels as Dickens’s Oliver Twist and David Copperfield, or Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Like those classics, it chronicles the education of an orphan who learns to make his way in the world. Quotations from Dickens and Brontë recur throughout The Cider House Rules, mirroring the thoughts and experiences of Homer, Melony, and the other orphans at St. Cloud’s.