Chapter 5: Homer Breaks a Promise
The day after Homer saves the life of a mother and her baby, Dr. Larch asks Homer to perform an autopsy on a fetus. The unborn child died in utero when its mother was stabbed to death. Examining the tiny body, Homer decides that a fetus has a soul. “Let Larch call it what he wants,” Homer thinks. “It’s his choice—if it’s a fetus, to him, that’s fine. It’s a baby to me…. If Larch has a choice, I have a choice, too.” (169). Homer informs Dr. Larch that he will never perform an abortion. Larch argues that as a doctor, Homer is obligated to learn how to perform one, in case he changes his mind one day. But Homer informs Larch he’s not even sure he wants to become a doctor. Larch is stricken by this news.
Meanwhile, two orphans—David Copperfield and an older boy, Curly Day—stumble upon a dead body hidden in the weeds. It is the body of the town’s stationmaster. A superstitious man, he was spooked by the arrival the day before of a woman’s cadaver (which Dr. Larch ordered for Homer’s training) and was convinced that something evil was afoot. Walking near the orphanage late that night, the stationmaster heard Dr. Larch call out, “I’m a sorcerer!” and dropped dead from shock.
Amid the chaos that ensues after the dead body is discovered, Candy Kendall and Wally Worthington arrive at St. Cloud’s. The handsome young couple create a stir of their own. The orphans gather around, each hoping to be adopted by the glamorous pair. The stationmaster’s assistant, summoned to the orphanage to view the stationmaster’s body, mistakes Wally’s beautiful white Cadillac for his boss’s funeral hearse. Only Homer guesses the real reason they are here.
Candy’s abortion is successful, and by the end of the day, they prepare to leave for home. To everyone’s surprise, Homer will go with them. Wally has proposed that Homer help him bring back apple trees to plant at the orphanage. Homer tells Dr. Larch he will only be gone two days. But Larch knows that Homer may be gone a lot longer. Before Homer leaves, the two men say “I love you” to each other.
Melony is so upset that she cannot eat her dinner. She clutches a book of Candy’s she stole from the car—Little Dorrit, a novel by Charles Dickens. She had been planning to give it to Homer, to thank him for his promise to her. But now Homer has broken his promise and left St. Cloud’s.
Chapter 6: Ocean View
As Chapter 6 begins, Melony takes over the duty of reading to the orphans at St. Cloud’s, but reads in a dead, melancholy voice. She fights another orphan, Mary Agnes, for a barrette Mary Agnes stole from Wally’s Cadillac. The barrette belongs to Candy, and Melony wants it. She twists Mary Agnes’s arm behind her back, breaking the girl’s collarbone, and takes the barrette. That evening, she steals money and a coat from Mrs. Grogan, the girls’ caretaker, and runs away from the orphanage, determined to find Homer.
Homer Wells is taken in by Wally’s mother, Olive Worthington. He shares a room with Wally and wears his clothes, and applies himself to learning the business of apple trees. Wally teaches Homer to drive, and Homer takes swimming lessons from Candy. Having never seen the ocean, or a lobster, Homer learns much from Candy’s father, Ray Kendall, an expert lobsterman. He becomes friendly with his fellow workers at Ocean View, and even gets a girlfriend, Debra Pettigrew. They go on a double date to the drive-in movies with Candy and Wally. He necks with Debra, but secretly is attracted to Candy. Homer is amazed as he watches his first drive-in movie, which features a Bedouin on a camel. “I’m a Bedouin,” he thinks, identifying with the character on the screen. Neither he nor the nomad has any permanent home.
At St. Cloud’s, Dr. Larch misses Homer. He is aging, and the board of trustees for the orphanage seek to find him a younger doctor as an assistant. Larch suspects they know something about his willingness to perform abortions, and are looking to replace him. He hatches a plan. Always a bit creative with the facts in his official history of St. Cloud’s, Larch fabricates records indicating that Fuzzy Stone, the boy who died, was in fact adopted and went on to attend medical school. He also fabricates correspondence with young Dr. Stone, making Stone out to be a zealous missionary and passionate anti-abortionist. He has now created the perfect candidate for his replacement. Now all he needs is for Homer Wells to take on the role of Dr. Stone.
Summer is drawing to a close. Wally prepares to leave for college, while Candy prepares to finish her senior year at the girls’ academy. Homer is invited to stay at Ocean View for the apple harvest.
Analysis of Chapters 5–6
The central conflict of the novel emerges in Chapter 5 as Homer stands up to his mentor, Dr. Larch, and disagrees with him on the subject of abortion. While he supports Dr. Larch’s right to perform abortions if he so chooses, Homer has decided that he will never do so himself. To Homer, a fetus has a soul. Dr. Larch argues that Homer has an obligation to learn how to perform abortions should the need ever arise. The argument between Homer and Dr. Larch illuminates the theme of choice. Larch believes strongly that women need to have a choice as to whether to have an abortion or not. Homer believes that he should have a choice as to whether or not to perform abortions. Their argument will continue throughout the novel.
The fact that Candy and Wally, a beautiful, bright young couple from comfortably well-off families, seek an abortion serves to illustrate yet again that unwanted pregnancy affects not only the lower social classes, but also the middle and upper classes of society.
The death of the stationmaster provides comic relief in Chapter 5. It is darkly humorous that the stationmaster drops dead from shock upon hearing Dr. Larch declare himself a sorcerer. Then Irving has Homer say “I love you” to the stationmaster’s body, believing it is the reclining figure of Dr. Larch. Continuing the black comedy of errors, the stationmaster’s assistant mistakes Wally’s Cadillac for a hearse. The comedy offsets the pathos as Dr. Larch, Melony, and the other orphans lament being abandoned by Homer Wells.
Although he is sad to see Homer leave, Dr. Larch is happy for Homer as well. He knows that Homer needs to experience the world. In Chapter 6, Homer’s moral education continues as he is introduced to drive-in movies—and to what teenagers typically do during the movies. He sees the ocean for the first time, and learns about apple orchards. His horizons are expanding. Dr. Larch hopes he will return to St. Cloud’s, but it is as yet unclear whether Homer will ever choose that path.
Larch is more than willing to bend the rules—and the truth—in order to do what he thinks is right. To Irving, he is a hero. But complications arise as the board of trustees threatens to replace Dr. Larch. Suspense again builds as to the fate of the old physician. What he is doing is illegal. Will he be exposed?