Ordinary People 2 Essay, Research Paper
Death, guilt, and forgiveness are experienced by everyone in life. In the novel
Ordinary People, Judith Guest explores these episodes of life extensively through Beth,
Calvin, Conrad, and Buck Jarrett. Buck, Conrad s older brother, died in a boating
accident. Beth, Calvin, and Conrad Jarrett all must encounter, and deal with emotions of
loss, guilt, and forgiveness in order to accept Bucks death.
Beth Jarrett, Conrad s mother and Calvin s wife, has a history of running away
from her problems, including Buck s death and Conrad s suicide attempt:
Don t, then! he snarls. Go to Europe, why don t you? Go to hell! ….Listen, I
know why she never came out there, not once! I know! Hell, she was going to
goddamn Spain and goddamn Portugal… 1
Beth went away to Spain and Portugal because she was a perfectionist, and could not
handle anything imperfect. She also ran away because she loved Buck and Conrad
extremely and what they did hurt her. Buck and Conrad s actions hurt her so badly that
she could never forgive them:
He made it as vicious as he could! The blood-all that blood! Oh, I will never
forgive him for it! He wanted it to kill me, too! (p. 237)
To deal with life, Beth runs away, which will never lead to acceptance of anything.
Unlike Beth, when Calvin sees a problem he confronts it. But not always with
confidence. He asks himself questions about why he missed the sighs, and what type of
person he is, and if he is a good father.
And what is fatherhood anyway? Talking to a kid about his clothes. Not
applying pressure. Looking for sighs. (p. 8)
Calvin s feels like he is sitting on a fence with Beth and Conrad both on different sides.
So he goes to see Dr. Burger for some help:
Okay, I m a drifter, he says….
What do you want to do about it?
Nothing! I don t want to do anything but sit here on the fence. Until I fall off.
On one side or the other. (p. 147)
Finally, Calvin is able to admit that not everything is in his control, and that some things
No, he says wearily. It s nobody. It s nobody s fault. Over and over this
same lesson to be learned; it is the way things are. (p. 258)
Calvin has finally realized it is not his fault that there was a storm and Buck died, or that
Conrad tried to kill himself, and there are not always signs.
Conrad is mess from the start, he blames himself for Bucks death, and everything
else bad that happens:
You don t understand, he says, it has to be somebody s fault. Or what was the
whole goddamn point of it?
The point of it, Berger says, is that it happened.
No! That s not it! That is to simple-… (p. 224)
Conrad feels that because he is responsible for Bucks death, he must take his place. So
Conrad tries to act like Buck, but all he really wants is to be himself:
Nobody needs you to be Buck. It s okay to just be you.
I don t know who that is anymore! he cries.
Yeah you do, Berger says. You do. Con, that guy is trying so hard to get
out… (p. 224)
Throughout the whole book Berger has been the one that Conrad can go to for help. He
was a very important person in the rehabilitation of Conrad, but so was Jeannine Pratt.
Jeannine helped Conrad to show his true feelings and she helped him experience emotions
like love, happiness, and many others:
He puts his arm around her. It s all right, he soothes. It ll work out all
right…. He stands, holding her; tests the feeling of someone leaning on him,
looking to him for support. He has never felt so strong, so needed. (p. 200)
Some things cannot be foreseen or understood or blamed on anyone- they can just be
endured. Love, openly shared, is the only thing one can count on to give them strength
for that endurance. Conrad finally learned to express his emotions and became a much
Death, guilt, and forgiveness are experienced by everyone, but with these also
comes happiness, laughter, and friendship. Calvin and Conrad both learned this lesson,
and even Beth did in her own way. This family learned to accept Bucks death, and learned
to forgive and love one another.