Chapter 9: Over Burma
At the hospital where Candy and Homer are nurses’ aides, a young war widow begs for an abortion. The pompous Dr. Harlow refuses her, saying “Rules exist for a reason” (372). But Homer secretly gives the woman a note sending her to St. Cloud’s. Nurse Caroline then confesses to Candy and Homer that she, too, helps women have abortions by dilating the cervix to bring on miscarriage. Back at St. Cloud’s, Dr. Larch writes letter after letter to President Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor, begging them to legalize abortion. “I thought that freedom of choice was obviously democratic—was obviously American!” he types feverishly. “Is it a democratic society that condemns people to the accident of conception? What are we—monkeys?” (376).
Wally and his crew are missing after their plane is shot down over Burma. A month later, three of the crew members appear, having made their way out of the jungle into the safety of China, but Wally is still missing. Homer and Candy continue to “wait and see,” until one day, alone in the cider house, they make love. The condom slips off, and Candy becomes pregnant. When harvest has ended, Homer and Candy go to St. Cloud’s—not for an abortion, this time, but so that Candy can have the baby in secret. They plan to bring the child back to Heart’s Rock, saying they have adopted it from the orphanage.
Candy and Homer spend the winter at St. Cloud’s, helping Dr. Larch and the nurses. Homer plants a grove of apple trees on the hill. Their baby boy is born in the middle of April, and Homer names him Angel, after Nurse Angela. Homer and Candy agree that they have never been happier. Then Candy receives a telegram from Olive saying that Wally has been found alive, paralyzed from encephalitis.
Wally’s story is told. After being shot down, he picks his way through the jungle, seeing snakes and tigers and batting off mosquitoes. Lacking a compass, he mistakenly goes south—deeper into Burma—instead of east into China. Burmese villagers find him drifting down the river on a handmade raft, delirious with fever. They rescue him and smuggle him to the coast, where he is flown to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). But the fever, caught from the Japanese B mosquito, leaves Wally paralyzed from the waist down. Although still able to have sexual relations, he is left sterile after villagers catheterize him with a dirty bamboo shoot. He will never be able to father a child.
Candy and Homer return to Heart’s Rock with baby Angel. Olive, believing the baby is adopted, embraces Homer and Angel and allows them to stay in Wally’s old bedroom. Now that Wally is paralyzed, Candy realizes he will need her, and she can’t promise Homer anything. “We’ll have to wait and see,” she says again. “Past a certain point, I won’t wait,” Homer replies. “I won’t have Angel thinking he’s adopted. I won’t have him not knowing who his mother and father are” (422).
Chapter 10: Fifteen Years
As Chapter 10 begins, Lorna and Melony have enjoyed a romantic partnership for fifteen years. They rarely fight, though Melony is arrested once for fighting a man who tries to pick up Lorna in a bar. When Lorna becomes pregnant, the relationship is over. Melony sends her to St. Cloud’s for an abortion, then throws her out of the house. She will search once more for Homer Wells.
For fifteen years, the members of the board of trustees try and fail to have Dr. Larch replaced. Dr. Gingrich, a psychiatrist, and Mrs. Goodhall, the widow of a missionary, discuss Larch, Goodhall complaining that the elderly doctor should be fired. Not only is he of advanced age, but since he has never married, Goodhall suspects he is a “nonpracticing homosexual” (434). The trustees are temporarily satisfied when Nurse Caroline, a young nurse Homer met while volunteering at the hospital, takes on a job at St. Cloud’s. What they don’t know is that Nurse Caroline has socialist leanings, and, believing in a woman’s right to choose, fully supports Dr. Larch’s work. Dr. Larch prepares for the worst. Should he be exposed as an abortionist during the board’s investigations, he still hopes that Homer will replace him as the resident doctor, with the new identity of Dr. Fuzzy Stone. Larch sends medical journals to Homer and even a special gift: a doctor’s bag with the initials FS, for Dr. Fuzzy Stone. He writes letters appealing to Homer’s conscience, persuading him that the “Lord’s Work” is desperately needed:
The women have no choice…. You have to help them because you know how. Think about who’s going to help you if you refuse…. Because abortions are illegal, women who need and want them have no choice in the matter, and you—because you know how to perform them—have no choice, either (488).
Homer, meanwhile, has spent the last fifteen years at Ocean View Orchards, and has no intention of becoming a doctor. Each year, he cleans up the cider house and posts a new set of rules; each year, the rules are ignored. He asks Mr. Rose why the men disregard the rules. “We got our own rules,” Mr. Rose says (430). Homer and Candy, too, have made their own rules. Candy has married Wally, but she continues to have a sexual relationship with Homer, and the trio all live together, sharing responsibility for Angel. Olive, Wally’s mother, died before Wally returned from Asia. Wally has not been told of Angel’s true parentage, but it gradually becomes clear that he has guessed the truth. At age fifteen, Angel still does not know that Candy and Homer are his real parents.
That summer, sometime during the 1950s, Melony arrives at Ocean View. She already knows about Wally’s injury, having read an article in the paper about him years before. After a look around, Melony guesses what is going on with Homer. “I somehow thought you’d end up doin’ somethin’ better than ballin’ a poor cripple’s wife and pretendin’ your own child ain’t your own,” she tells Homer accusingly. “I had you figured all wrong,” she adds. “I always thought you’d end up like the old man….like Larch…. You’re a creep!” (470).
Melony leaves Homer, never to see him again. Stung by Melony’s assessment of him, Homer tells Candy that they must stop sleeping together, and tell Angel and Wally the truth about the past.
At the end of the chapter, Dr. Larch is shown trying to save a young woman whose insides are badly infected by a botched abortion. In the next chapter, she dies.
Analysis of Chapters 9–10
Dr. Harlow is presented as a foil for Dr. Larch. He is as lacking in compassion as Dr. Larch is compassionate, and as steadfastly rule-following as Larch is rebellious. Harlow is pompous in his statement that “rules exist for a reason.” In fact, Irving suggests, many rules go against reason. Examples throughout the novel of women who suffer and die at the hands of unskilled abortionists justify Dr. Larch’s position that the anti-abortion laws are unreasonable. Women must be given a choice, he argues in his letters to the Roosevelts. It is their right to choose whether or not to give birth.
With Wally lost, and likely dead, in Burma, it is not surprising that Homer and Candy seek comfort in each other’s arms. However, it is surprising, and ironic, that Candy becomes pregnant again. True to Homer’s personal beliefs, he argues that Candy should not have an abortion, but should carry their child to term. Thus Angel becomes perhaps the first baby to be delivered at St. Cloud’s who is neither an orphan or an abortion, but a wanted child.
Homer’s confrontation with Mr. Rose about the cider house rules illustrates a central theme of the novel: rules created by authority do not always make sense to those who are asked to live under them. People know right from wrong, and they naturally create their own rules to live by, rather than blindly following the rules they are given. Homer and Candy break the “rules” by carrying on a relationship while Candy is married to Wally. Lorna and Melony break the “rules” of conventional society by having a lesbian relationship.
Sometimes, it seems, one must break the law or tell a lie in order to do good. But, Irving suggests, sometimes breaking the rules, and telling a lie, leads to harm for others. This is true in the case of Candy and Homer’s relationship. Wally has guessed the true nature of it, and he is hurt by the deception. Angel, too, has a right to know who his parents are. This is why Homer decides they must tell Wally, and Angel, the truth.