Book Report: Ordinary People By Judith Guest
The title of the book is Ordinary People and was written by Judith Guest. There are a total of 245 pages in the book. It was published in July of 1976 by Viking Press. Viking Press is located in New York. Ordinary People is a psychological novel.
Ordinary People takes place in the 1970s in Lake Forests, Illinois. The novel begins one year after the Jarrett family has lost their son Buck to an accident. Their other son, Conrad, is newly released from a mental hospital. We find out that Conrad tried to commit suicide after the death of his brother. After returning home he tries to live is old everyday life but seems to have some troubles. His parents, Beth and Calvin, are confused on how to help. With their oldest son passing away and Conrad’s suicide attempt, their marriage is failing. Beth is not willing to talk about anything that happened. Conrad decides to try harder at life while his parents argue. He quits the swim team and starts to play guitar again. He strays away from his old friends because they are a constant reminder of his brother. Conrad even begins to date the new girl in school named Jeannine. After being together, Jeannine tells Conrad about her past. A problem occurs at school when Conrad gets into a fight with the schools bully. Calvin and Conrad’s therapist think this is amazing because emotion is finally being shown from Conrad. After all this, Beth is still not willing to talk. With all the emotions she is feeling, she decides to leave. When she left Calvin and Conrad move to a more suitable house and become closer. The therapist helps Conrad understand his mother’s actions. Conrad decides that he is going to no longer hide from is past and becomes friends with Joe, his former best friend. The climax of the story is when Conrad’s mom leaves and it forces Conrad to see why she left and how to feel his emotions is a controlled way.
Conrad is a troubled kid who blames no one but himself for the death of his brother. The survivor’s guilt leads him to his attempt of suicide. After spending six months in a mental hospital his doctor believes that he is ready to resume where he left off in his life. He struggles but ends up understanding his emotions in a good way. Calvin is the father of Conrad. He is willing to put in the effort to help is son and will fight against Beth. Beth is the mother of Conrad. She will never talk about the events that went on. She leaves Conrad and Calvin to figure things out alone.
Ordinary People is written in first person. The story is mostly told through the thoughts of Conrad and Calvin. You can tell what the decisions that Conrad is going to make through his thoughts. Calvin mostly thinks about the emotions that Conrad is feeling and how to help him.
Judith was trying to portray family values, being alone, blame and guilt, not being satisfied with life, and the new beginnings of friendships. The story of Conrad going through life is also expressing his coming of age. Family values is a big part of the story. Conrad’s parents handled the situation in different ways and his father stuck by him during the rough patches.
The element that I showed interest in the most was plot. The plot of Ordinary People is intriguing. You want to see how Conrad overcomes his issues and how his journey continues. With his father being supportive and his mother not caring, this story has its ups and downs. Conrad is a kid who lost his brother and is trying to overcome the damage it has done.
- Guest, Judith. Ordinary People. Viking Press , 1976.
- Shmoop Editorial Team. “Ordinary People.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008, www.shmoop.com/ordinary-people/
Robert Redford’s Drama Movie , Ordinary People: a Psychological Analysis
The movie that I decided to watch and analyze from a psychological point of view for this reaction paper is Ordinary People based on the book by Judith Guest. Ordinary People describes the life of the main character, Conrad Jarrett, and his mother and father (Beth and Calvin Jarrett) after the death of his older brother Buck. The book is mainly from Conrad’s point of view considering it is about how Conrad is dealing with Buck’s death. After the death of his older brother, caused by a terrible boating accident, Conrad tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists, because he feels troubled by the fact that his brother is now dead and he feels as if it is his fault.
Conrad’s suicide attempt was thwarted when he was discovered by his father before he bled out. Since then Conrad has been seeing a therapist to help him come to terms with his brother’s death and his suicide attempt. It seems that Conrad’s attempts at recovery are thwarted by his lack of interest in life and low motivation that he has about things. The family not only has to deal with the death of Buck, now they also have to deal with Conrad’s suicide attempt and his poor emotional health.
The symptoms that Conrad seems to exhibit throughout the movie is suicidal tendencies/thoughts/actions, his lackluster attitude toward life, his low motivation to really become interested in the things he used to do before his brother’s death, nervousness at every little thing, and at times how Conrad seems to be really unemotional attached from others and didn’t seem to care much sometimes. I consider these things symptoms because it seems like for the greater half of the story Conrad is exhibiting low motivation at everything he used to do before his life reached a downward slide. Conrad no longer wants to hang out with his friends, he doesn’t want to stay on the swimming team anymore, and even ordinary things, like getting ready for school, feels like Conrad is going through the motions. This type of behavior was pretty consistent throughout the story no matter where Conrad was. He always felt that life just didn’t have the meaning it did for him before. Conrad feels that everyone else received their direction in life, but he missed the memo or something ( NIH, 2015).
The nervousness that Conrad felt throughout the movie seemed to be pretty consistent throughout the book. Conrad was constantly being nervous and worrying about if he failed a quiz/test, if his friend would be late picking him up for school, would his mother worry, because he is late getting to school, and he is always worrying about doing something that will cause others to think that something is wrong with him again. This may feel like a few of the normal things that Conrad should be nervous about or that he should worry about because of the situation he is in, but he is constantly nervous and he is constantly worrying about every little thing that he is really putting so much stress on himself (NIH, 2015).
The next symptom is the anger that Conrad seems to carry with him now. At first in the film when Conrad is starting out he avoids voicing to others what he really thinks of situations, like when Stillman was making fun of him for taking an interest in Jeannine Pratt and when he really wanted to quit the swim team because he really didn’t like Coach Salan. It gives you the thought that Conrad is a regular person who does not need anymore problems in his life so he avoids conflict with others just to make sure that he does not add any more trouble in his life or burden others.
Later on through the film this feels like it isn’t the case, at least in my opinion. Throughout the story later on Conrad seems to have a blasé attitude towards ruining the relationships he has with people, and not caring if he is distancing himself from others. When Stillman starts making fun of him later in the story Conrad responds with an equally offensive comeback, Conrad offends Lazenby later on in this part of the film as well and he just doesn’t seem to care if he lost any friends at all. Conrad comments that they were his brother’s friends anyways so it doesn’t matter if they don’t want to hang out with him anymore he doesn’t need them. It’s like Conrad no longer cares others and their feelings anymore, and if they are going to be too sensitive about the replies he gives to their smart remarks they are no longer needed in his life. Conrad also acts like this earlier in the film when he meets up with his friend Karen that he had met at the hospital.
Their meeting was so quick and she seemed too busy to stay long to meet him that after she leaves he sarcastically remarks to himself that it was great seeing you after a long time Karen, who needs you or anybody else for that matter. Conrad is again emotionally detaching himself from yet another friend and it seems he is hurt by Karen’s early departure, so he feels that if anyone doesn’t have time for him why should he have to make time for them. This type of behavior seems to happen when he is speaking to those he used to socialize with before or during the time that his life took a turn for the worse. When you really get into the movie you see that Conrad is trying to suppress his emotions and to stay unemotional for many situations, so he has a lot of pent up anger. Any other people that he managed to talk to once he returned to school, Suzanne or Jeanine, they seemed to communicate alright.
The biggest symptom of all from Conrad is his suicidal thoughts and actions (NIH, 2015). The whole reason Conrad has to see a therapist is just because of his brother’s death it’s also because he tried to commit suicide thing that the death was his fault. The only reason that Conrad didn’t succeed at his suicide attempt is because his dad managed to find him in time. There are points in the story where Conrad thinks that he wanted to commit suicide to escape the fact that his brother is dead and because he thought that committing suicide would help him sleep at night. This is a huge red flag for Conrad’s mental state. Considering that suicide was a way to help with your insomnia is an extremely strange way of thinking.
Watching this movie I feel that this has shown some realistic ways that people deal with death. The Jarrett’s refused to communicate to professionals, friends, or each other and it was slowly eating them up inside. This was not healthy for this family and they really suffered for it. Conrad tried to kill himself and the family just tried to brush over it like nothing happened at all. That was pretty sad considering that there were a few family members that really did try to make things work. The father at least tried to work on their familial problems, but the mother was just so bent on keeping all her emotions inside. I really felt that the entire family needed to go to therapy together instead of just Conrad going by himself.
Maybe the family would have benefitted well if they tried Narrative therapy as a therapeutic system for the family. Narrative therapy is a therapy that involves the client presenting a dominating story to the therapist that explains the reason why they are there at the therapy session. This way the family could have a chance telling their sides to the story of how they reacted after the death of Buck, hopefully coming to an understanding of where they are coming from. This sounds easy on paper but really with their family so many things could go wrong, especially with the way the mother copes with death.
It could be helpful if the client is willing to speak about what addiction they may have and what lead them here to your office in the end or it may be harmful if the client may tell stories that may not even pertain to why they are there forgetting the whole reason that they are there to talk to you. This can be further complicated if family was brought into the situation. With narrative therapy you will get the client’s side of what they think happened in the story, but adding in the family members into the mix can add conflicting stories of their point of view of the story (Worden, 2003). The mother ma just drive a wedge between her and the family more with this type of therapy, I know she ended up leaving the family at the end of the movie, but maybe if they found a way to talk it out with her maybe they could have kept the family together. This was just my idea of what the characters could have possibly used as a way to try to come back together again. Even though the mother left in the end I still feel like there was a “happy ending”
With the mother gone the father and Conrad can finally breathe without saying or doing anything that could set the mother off. Not to make Mrs. Jarrett a villain, I just feel that she was really hindering the healing process of the family as a whole with the way she would lash out and get defensive when someone would judge her. I realize it was a coping mechanism, but she needs to find a better way to cope through situations or she may never get back to her family again. I really enjoyed this movie and I enjoyed analyzing the details of Conrad’s feelings about his brother’s death in the film.
How Judith Guest’s Book Ordinary People Brings Out The Theme Of Weakness
Weakness in Ordinary People
The weak always dwell in the past, and do not attempt to solve their troubles by moving forward in life. In Ordinary People by Judith Guest, the characters find difficulty in breaking out of their problems, and always stubbornly stay in their problems. The Jarretts, the main characters in Ordinary People, appear to be anything but weak, but when closely examined, weakness can be seen flowing through their veins.
By succumbing to their emotions and desires easily, the members of the Jarrett family reveal their inner weakness beneath a thin layer of strength. Arnold Bacon, a mentor of Calvin, does not approve of “law students who married while they were in school” (Page 49); however, Calvin—at that time a young law student—does so anyways when he meets Beth. Losing a chance for a better legal career, Calvin falls for Beth, showing a lack of mental control. By falling for his desires, Calvin shows lack of mental control, a crucial factor in determining strength, allows Calvin’s weakness to be shown. Beth, who fires a “goddamn maid because she couldn’t dust the living room right” (Page 119), also has a weakness in emotional control. Having a very narrow mindset, wanting everything to be following her standards, Beth becomes frustrated when there is even a slightest flaw in her life. Frustration—a primary emotion of Beth—gains control over her thoughts, and allows her mental barriers to break down. Beth’s weak mind permits those emotions to control her. Beth and Calvin display weakness when they allow their emotions and desires control them.
By not being able to recover completely from Jordan’s death, the Jarretts once again show weakness. Calvin knows that “the loss of Jordan, his elder, his light-hearted son” (Page 34) cannot be changed; however, he still grieves. Though the loss of a son may be a significant one, recovering from it is not as difficult as the Jarretts’ recovery. Many fathers have lost sons, and many of them did not allow their losses take over their lives. Calvin’s weakness, which plays a decisive role in deciding the outcome of his recovery, allows the loss of Jordan to consume his life, decreasing his productivity at work and his ability to interact with others. Even though Conrad thinks the death of Jordan “doesn’t change anything” (Page 44), he allows that death to hijack his daily activities and his thoughts. Conrad’s weakness causes his depression, as his inability to shake off Jordan’s death lets his emotions to be taken over by that loss. By not getting over the loss of Jordan quickly enough to prevent a disruption in his daily life, Conrad shows that his weak mind simply cannot cope with a loss of that degree. Jordan’s death completely hampers the Jarretts to live normal life, because the Jarretts’ weak minds do not allow them to recover completely.
When Beth decides to leave Calvin, she is showing a lack of self-determination, another factor of weakness. When Calvin does not “understand any more” (Page 253) of Beth’s behavior, he is seeing absolutely no reason in Beth’s decision. Beth’s selfish desire to leave her family, breaking a motherly bond with Conrad, shows that she is weak. Her inability to stay behind for the sake of Conrad developing a healthy young adult life, a product of weakness, reveals that she cannot control her desires and emotions. Beth’s decision to leave is entirely out of her own selfish desires, the desire that her weak mind cannot control.
The Jarretts of Ordinary People display many instances of weakness, the weakness that causes most of their problems. The Jarretts dwell in the past, which prevents them from moving forward with their lives. The weak will always grieve about the past, and will never have the willpower to move on.
Blue Shades of Hope
To add an element to a story, authors tend to use colors to allude to specific details, thoughts, or feelings of characters. Judith Guest’s novel, Ordinary People, is a coming of age tale which forces readers to analyze the different characters while they experience loss, depression, and anger. The story takes place through the eyes of a father and a son, Calvin and Conrad, as they share their views on living in suburbia after the loss of a beloved family member and a suicide attempt. The color blue is mentioned repeatedly, but when the main character perceives it as anxiety, it seems the author has intended otherwise Throughout the book, Judith Guest uses the color blue to signify hope since it is the blue shade of Jeannine’s skirt, the blue in Berger’s eyes, and the blue car and outfit of the woman Conrad meets at the library. To start, hope is signalled through the color blue by how the author mentions the color of Conrad’s girlfriend’s skirt.
On Conrad’s first day back to school he notices a new girl. Guest writes, “A small, neat looking redhead in a blue skirt, tan jacket is hurrying along the street, her books in her arms” (17). Literally, he is observing this unfamiliar girl, Jeannine, on his first day by noticing the colors she is wearing. On a deeper level, the blue of her skirt could be symbolizing hope for the future, hope to come because they mutually help each other get better. The author could be partially foreshadowing or symbolizing hope because later in the story, Jeannine and Conrad are dating. Conrad admits that she makes him feel stronger and needed. Due to Guest’s purposeful inclusion of the blue pigment in Jeannine’s skirt, it shows one way how blue represents hope.
Secondly, Judith Guest uses the color blue to signify hope through Berger’s eyes. After some thinking, Calvin decides he wants to visit Dr. Berger for himself. Calvin’s first description of him is, “His hair is a dark and fuzzy halo about his head; his eyes, a sharp, stinging blue” (Guest 145). Right off the bat, Calvin notices Dr. Berger’s eyes and uses adjectives like “sharp, stinging” to describe their bright nature. Below the surface, “sharp, stinging” are adjectives normally used when describing the sun, which gives light and life to everything. When the sun is out, people tend to be in a happier mood and Guest was trying to show the happiness that is to come for Calvin. For Calvin, he sees this hope (the sun) within Berger’s eyes. By the the bright blue eyes of the psychologist, Guest was able to show hope through the color.
Lastly, Judith Guest has the color blue denote hope when Conrad encounters a woman with a blue car. When at the library, Conrad is being watched by a strange woman. After leaving the building, she comes up and compliments him on his good looks. After returning home and looking in the mirror Conrad thinks to himself, “What will he have to pay for all of this, for thinking well of himself?… Whatever the price, it is worth it” (Guest 134). After Conrad is complemented by the woman in the blue car, he ultimately assumes the worst is to come if he thinks fondly of himself. But in depth, even though he feels guilty at first for thinking well of himself, he realizes that it’s okay to feel self confident. This confidence is a huge step for Conrad. It show’s how he is improving by getting away from depression and his mental state is becoming more positive; the fact that the lady had a blue car was just hinting at this event. The lady with the blue car gave Conrad the confidence to admit that he is good looking. Judith Guest has hope signified by the color blue since it was the color of the woman’s car.
To wrap up, Guest subliminally hints that hope is conveyed through the color blue throughout the story by the different events that occur. When first seeing Jeannine, Conrad notices her blue skirt which symbolizes hope for the future; consequently, later in the book she helps Conrad to grow stronger. Also, blue applies to Calvin when he notices it in Dr. Berger’s eyes. This hope lets Calvin know that things will get better. In addition, the strange woman with the blue car allowed Conrad to actually feel good about himself and accept that he’s making progress by working through his depression. Overall, the way Guest uses to the color blue shows that there may be subliminal signs that others haven’t noticed, but have been there all along. Through analysis, authors love to use colors (blue) to create shades of layers of shades throughout.