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The setting and milieu in which Ordinary People takes places is an upscale Chicago suburb far away from the gangs and criminal mischief characterizing the inner city of the metropolis. Despite the fact that the worlds through which the Jarretts move is as far away culturally from tragic reality of inner city urban warfare as it is geographically from the white sandy beaches of the Gulf Coast or the thick forests of the Pacific Northwest, however, the family discovers they are no more protected from the consequences of horrific tragedy. What is different, of course, is how economic circumstances are capable of dictating the response that one has toward tragedy.

At the heart of Ordinary People lies the emotional and intellectual growth experienced by Conrad that, ironically, might have been delayed or even utterly obstructed were it not for the tragic boating accident which claimed the life of his older brother. Before Conrad that reach that point of acquiring knowledge about himself and his family, he must first survive his own attempt at killing himself. That decision to try taking his own life delays his arrive at the destination, but can be seen as essential path he must take on the journey. That journey mandates his meeting Karen and subsequently adding her suicide to the oppressive weight of guilt that is the driving force which ultimately allows him to arrive at the point of self-discovery.

Ordinary People joins a very long list of novels that examines themes related to the relationship between fathers and sons. What sets this particular examination apart from the overwhelming bulk of the rest—especially those set in upper middle class white suburbia—is that the dominant parental figure here is not the husband, but the wife. Part of Conrad’s painful journey toward self-discovery is coming to a deeper understanding of the role his father plays in the family dynamic. Like Conrad himself, the reader is likely to fall into the trap of assigning Calvin Jarrett’s submissive position toward his wife to weakness on his part. Yes, Calvin does fulfill the more submissive role in this marriage, but eventually the reader comes to appreciate—like Conrad—that this role is not the result of weakness on the part of his father, but actually a strength more profound and significantly less demonstrative than that exhibited by his mother.

The overriding theme of Ordinary People is that everyone is responsible for just one life: their own. The lives of these ordinary people become a crucible through guilt is forged into a weapon of destruction. The effect of guilt, the novel seems to suggest, can be both positive and negative, but whatever the ultimate consequences may be, one thing remains fully intact: no other person is the one singular agent of change in another person’s life. That role forever remains solely the domain of the person who changes and is the decision they make and those decisions alone which bear ultimate responsibility for the way any life turns out.

relationships in Ordinary People

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Beth and Calvin
      The relationship between the husband and wife seems initially to be perfect. They both show each other expressions of love. There is understanding, harmony, financial security, and good communication between them. The couple spends a lot of time together, discussing future plans, and talking about the good moments they had in the past. However, behind all of this positive interaction between the two of them is something they are both not able
to face. The tragic loss of their son, Buck has caused a great amount of pain and anger they are not expressing.
     The wife lived in denial, trying to live the life of a perfect person unaffected by what had happened to her son Buck. A certain image had to be upheld and everything else was secondary. Even the love for her husband was not as perfect as it was shown..She tries to keep these feelings and memories of her lost son buried deep inside her. She finds it very difficult to show any emotion concerning the fact that one of her sons is never coming back. She tried to portray an image of things being just perfect. Her portrayal includes not wanting to discuss anything that may upset her, she is always walking away from the conversation. It seems as though she does it in every scene. The scene that caught my attention the most was at the end, when she walked away from Calvin after he said he wasn’t sure if he still loved her. That is a pretty powerful statement, and you would think she would want to know why. I’m sure she did, she just didn’t know how to discuss it. So par for the course, she walked away, with something else she will have to tuck away for the rest of her life.

Conrad and Calvin
     Conrad and his father, Calvin, had a very good and strong trusting relationship. Although Conrad was stubborn and didn't want to speak of his
troubles, Calvin would keep trying and didn't give up. Calvin really cared for Conrad and wanted him to share his feelings and emotions. For example, there was a scene when Calvin would walk into Conrad's room just to make sure he was doing fine. Calvin not only showed his affections nonverbally, he showed them verbally also. He wanted to see his son back to life, back to who he was.

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When Conrad finally decided to see the psychiatrist, Calvin was more than glad to hear about it and to pay for the expenses. Basically, what Conrad wanted, Calvin would give.
      Their father and son relationship was difficult at times because of all that happened in the past. However, to make their relationship ongoing and as strong as possible, Calvin would do anything for Conrad's happiness. One of
Calvin's biggest goal was to see Conrad enjoy his life.
     Something as little as a smile or a conversation from Conrad
would make Calvin happy. Although their relationship had nonverbal communications or silence at times, their feelings were strong for one another and they knew that they could count on each other. For instance, when Conrad covered his head with a pillow crying, Calvin knew that talking would not solve anything. Instead, Calvin would leave him alone and talk to Conrad when Conrad felt like talking. They had
a common understanding for each other, and although there was silence, Calvin would still try to understand and respect what Conrad was going through. Their relationship was built slowly, and became a very strong and unbreakable bond.

Conrad and Beth

     Their relationship is very distant; the only time they converse with one another, to discuss the things that Conrad has done, such as swimming, school work etc., each time the conversation between them would start to go a little deeper, mother would leave the room. It appeared that mother resented Conrad in many ways; I think she blamed him for Buck's death, and I think she resented him because he survived and Buck did not...she obviously favored Buck over Conrad...Also, I believe mother resented Conrad because he tried to kill himself and was hospitalized...Not only did this make the family look bad, but it also brought up the grief of Buck's death...The mother is a major controller and when things do not go her way, she pretends they do not exist and leaves the room. Mother did not give Conrad any affection at all; when grandmother wanted to take a picture with Conrad and Beth alone, Beth became very disturbed and was very hesitant to stand next to Conrad. However, when she had taken pictures with everyone else in the family, she was very pleasant...Once in the movie Conrad hugged his mother, but she did not respond. I believe this was Conrad's way of bringing the relationship back together again. I believe mother was also very jealous of her husband's love and concern for Conrad. She was always trying to get her husband to go away on vacation, again to run from the family's problems...Conrad's and Beth’s relationship was very distant, they could not connect with one another, even though Conrad did attempt to connect with his mother, but she would not permit it...It as if she just wanted Conrad out of the picture, because he was making her think too much.

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