Excerpted from The Cider House Rules by John Irving. Copyright © 1997 by John Irving. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The World According to Garp, which won the National Book Award in 1980, was John Irving's fourth novel and his first international bestseller. Irving's novels are now translated into thirty-five languages, and he has had nine international bestsellers.
1. The rules posted on the cider house wall aren't read or understood by anyone living there except Mr. Rose, who makes -- and breaks -- his own set of rules. What point is John Irving making with the unread rules?
2. What rules, both written and unwritten, do other characters follow in the novel? Did most characters violate their own rules? Who stays the most true to his or her rules?
3. Dr. Larch makes the interesting statement that because women don't legally have the right to choose, Homer Wells does not have a moral claim in choosing not to perform abortions. Do you find Larch's argument compelling? Do you think Homer was ultimately convinced or that he needed an escape from Ocean View?
4. In order to set future events on what he believes to be the correct path, Larch alters the history of the orphanage to create a false heart murmur for Homer and changes various school transcripts to create Dr. Fuzzy Stone. What other doctoring of history does Larch do? Do you think Homer, as Dr. Fuzzy Stone, will continue the tradition?
5. St. Cloud's setting is grim, unadorned, and unhealthy, while Ocean View is healthy, wide open, and full of opportunities. In what ways do the settings of the orphanage and the orchards belie their effect on their residents? What did you make of Homer bringing the apple trees to St. Cloud's?
6. As you were reading, what did you expect Melony to do to Homer when she finally found him? Though Homer forgets about Melony for many years, do you think she had more of an impact on his future than Candy did?
7. Larch's introduction to sex comes through a prostitute and her daughter, and his introduction to abortion is given by the same women. Sex with Melony, the picture of the pony, and abortions performed by Larch introduces Homer to the same issues, yet Homer doesn't maintain sexual abstinence as Larch does. Why do you think this is? Do you think Larch substitutes ether for sex?
8. Violence against women forms a thread throughout the novel; Melony fights off apple pickers, Grace receives constant beatings from her husband, and Rose Rose suffers incest. Does the author seem to be making a connection between violence and sex? How do the women's individual responses to violence reflect their personalities?
9. The issues of fatherhood are complex--as seen in Larch's relation-ship with Homer, and Homer's relationship with Angel -- but being a good father or good parent is stressed throughout. According to the novel, what are some of the ingredients that make a good father? Is truthfulness one of them?
10. Candy's "wait and see" philosophy contrasts with Larch's constant tinkering with the future to suit his desires. Based on his personality, is Homer better suited to waiting or to working?
11. Herb Fowler's sabotaged condoms are one example of how people and rules in Ocean View are actually the opposite of what they seem. What other examples can you recall?
12. 12. Near the end, Homer's meeting with Melony is a turning point, spurring him to reveal the truth about Angel's parentage and to return to St. Cloud's, where he can be "of use." While reading, did you want to learn more about Melony's adventures during the intervening years or less? Which character do you think drove the novel's momentum?
13. If you saw the film adaptation of The Cider House Rules, discuss the aspects of the story that you think were stronger in the novel, and the portions of the film that were especially potent. What are your feelings about film adaptations of novels in general, and about the adaptation of this novel in particular? 14. What did you find to be particularly effective or well done in Irving's writing? If you've read other Irving novels, name some of the themes that he carries over from novel to novel.