Chapter 3: Young Dr. Wells
Dr. Larch prides himself on treating the orphans “as if they came from royal families.” (79). Each night, after Homer Wells has finished reading to the children from the novels of Charles Dickens, Dr. Larch calls to them, “Good night, you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England.” Actually, Homer thinks, the boys are hardly princes. One of them, John Wilbur, wets the bed each night. Another boy, Fuzzy Stone, was born prematurely and has underdeveloped lungs. Each night, Homer hears Fuzzy wheezing inside a special tent Dr. Larch has made for him.
Homer looks on Dr. Larch as a father figure. He follows the doctor around like a shadow, and listens intently when Dr. Larch explains his work. To Larch, a fetus does not quite have a life of its own; it lives off the mother. An abortion, then, does not necessarily mean killing a child; it means stopping a fetus from developing into a child.
Homer becomes a skilled reader, and Dr. Larch allows him to begin reading to the girls’ division each night from the novel Jane Eyre, by Charlotte BrontÎ. In the girls’ division, he meets a new influence in a girl called Melony, another orphan around his own age. Abandoned at the age of five or six and sexually abused in foster homes, Melony is as angry as Homer is calm. She mocks the sentimental passages of Jane Eyre and gives Homer the sarcastic nickname “Sunshine.” One day, while the two explore an abandoned building near the water, Melony finds an obscene photograph and shows it to Homer. The photograph depicts a woman fellating a pony. Soon after, Melony performs the act on Homer, and the two begin a loveless sexual relationship. Melony forces Homer to promise that he will never leave St. Cloud’s without her.
Homer keeps the obscene photograph under his mattress, where several of the younger orphan boys discover it. They are horrified; one even vomits. Dr. Larch finds the photograph and is troubled to see that the woman pictured is none other than Mrs. Eames’s daughter—a reminder of his past sins, and his continuing duty to help women like her. Dr. Larch decides that if Homer is old enough to look at such a picture, he is old enough to learn about obstetric procedure. It is time for Homer, not yet sixteen, to become the doctor’s apprentice.
One more incident in the chapter underscores the fact that Homer is growing up. Fuzzy Stone, the boy who sleeps in a tent, dies of a respiratory infection. Homer is left to tell the other boys what happened to Fuzzy, and lies to them that the boy has been adopted. “Let us be happy for Fuzzy Stone,” he tells the boys. “Fuzzy Stone has found a family.”
Chapter 4: Homer Breaks a Promise
Homer Wells begins his training as a doctor under Dr. Larch, learning both how to deliver babies and to perform abortions by dilatation and curettage. By the 1940s, when Homer is not yet twenty, he has delivered many children himself. However, he has only assisted at abortions. Dr. Larch does not wish for Homer to perform abortions himself until the boy has completed medical school and has seen something of the outside world. This way, Homer will be able to make his own choice as to whether to perform the illegal procedure.
Dr. Larch has trouble finding a place in the world for Melony. She is fired from two different jobs in town. Larch frets that Melony, almost twenty, is both unadoptable and unemployable. He takes comfort, as usual, in his ether habit. As he drifts away into an ether cloud, he thinks of all the towns in Maine where Homer Wells might go.
Near a small, pretty harbor town called Heart’s Haven lies the humble village of Heart’s Rock. It is the home of the Worthington family, owners of an apple orchard called Ocean View Orchards. The hardworking Olive and the fun-loving, often-drunk Wallace Worthington have one son a few years older than Homer, a handsome boy named Wally. Everything seems idyllic in Heart’s Rock, but soon a problem develops. Wally’s girlfriend, the beautiful blonde Candy Kendall, becomes pregnant. Although Wally and Candy are in love and wish to marry someday, they are not ready for a baby just yet. Wally asks the workers at the orchard for advice. One woman, Grace Lynch, a victim of spousal abuse, has secretly had an abortion. To Wally, she whispers the name St. Cloud’s.
Meanwhile, while Dr. Larch is away from the orphanage, fetching a cadaver he wants to use for Homer’s training, Homer faces the biggest challenge of his apprenticeship. A woman arrives, heavily pregnant and suffering from the convulsions of eclampsia. He is able to induce labor and save the lives of the woman and her child. The nurses allow Homer to name the baby boy, and he chooses the name David Copperfield. That evening, Dr. Larch is so proud of Homer that he kisses him. Homer cries, having received his first fatherly kiss. That evening, Larch and Homer stand outside watching their shadows against the trees. “Look! I’m a sorcerer!” Larch jokes, flapping his wings like a bat. Observing their shadows, the men realize for the first time that Homer has grown taller than Dr. Larch.
Analysis of Chapters 3–4
Irving presents Dr. Larch as the hero and central character of the novel, but a second protagonist emerges in the form of young Homer Wells. Homer’s name might be seen as symbolic, as he keeps coming “home” to the orphanage at St. Cloud’s. The novel will follow him as he searches for a permanent home, a permanent place in the world.
The Cider House Rules may be described as a coming-of-age tale, or by the German term Bildungsroman, in the tradition of Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, or Jane Eyre, in that it chronicles the moral education of a young orphan learning to make his or her way in the world, having various experiences (including romantic and/or sexual adventures) along the way. The quotations from Dickens and BrontÎ emphasize Irving’s homage to the nineteenth-century English classics.
Homer’s sexual experience with Melony marks his departure from childhood into adolescence, a time of confusion and deception. For the first time, he has something to hide from Dr. Larch. When Homer lies to the young orphans, telling them that Fuzzy Stone has been adopted, he truly leaves behind his youthful innocence. As he calls out “Good night, Fuzzy Stone!” to the unanswering wilderness, Homer says goodbye to his younger self.
At this point in the novel, Homer seems set to follow in Dr. Larch’s footsteps and become a doctor. He is grateful for the fatherly love he receives from Dr. Larch, and grateful for what the elderly doctor has taught him. However, as Dr. Larch knows, Homer will eventually need to leave St. Cloud’s and see the outside world. He may return, or he may not.
In Chapter 4 Irving introduces a new setting—Heart’s Rock—and a new set of characters who seem destined to cross paths with Homer Wells. The ocean breeze sensed by Homer and Dr. Larch at the end of Chapter 4 foreshadows that Homer’s future may lie at Ocean View Orchards. As the two men ponder their fate, suspense builds as to what will happen in the next chapters.