Skip over navigation

Ordinary People

Judith Guest

Chapters 27-29

Chapters 25-26

Chapters 30-31, Epilogue

Summary

Conrad arrives in Dr. Berger's office. Berger encourages Conrad to "just let it out." Conrad suddenly flashes back again to memories of the hospital, and he tells Berger that some things he cannot talk about. Conrad sees that he has lost self-control, and he cries to Berger that he wants something to let him off the hook for "killing" Buck. Conrad thinks that despite insurmountable odds, he could have prevented Buck's drowning. Berger tells Conrad that he is always trying to be Buck; he instead ought to just be himself. Berger tells Conrad to let the real him out. Then he takes Conrad out to get food because Conrad has eaten nothing in a day. In the cafe, Berger mentions the death of Karen, which he heard about through Dr. Crawford. Conrad begins crying again. Berger tells Conrad that feeling terrible is sometimes good for you. He tells Conrad to go back to his parents' house and spend the day recuperating. Conrad agrees to come back the next day for a regular appointment. Berger concludes that Conrad has to stop punishing himself for things he didn't do.

Conrad goes back to his house in Lake Forest. He takes a shower and recalls his conversation with Berger. He has another flashback to an afternoon he spent with Buck, then he thinks about punishment. He again thinks of Karen, then goes to bed.

In Houston, Calvin and Beth are still with Ward and Audrey. Calvin ended up losing the golf tournament, but he had not expected to win anyway. Beth says that she thinks they ought to golf more together; they should take a trip to Pinehurst of Myrtle Beach. Calvin mentions that Conrad would like that, which immediately triggers antagonism from Beth, who accuses Calvin of always inserting their son into conversations. She tells Calvin that he is "breathing down [Conrad's] neck all the ti me." The night, the four of them go out together, and Calvin gets drunk. Back at the house, Calvin suggests that they finish the discussion that Beth started earlier, which again triggers antagonism from Beth who thinks that she started no conversation. Beth snaps and cries that she is sick of always talking about Conrad; Conrad controls Calvin in all ways. Calvin says that the problem is not Conrad. It is their lack of communication. Calvin wants to know what he did to make Beth so angry, and she replies that what makes her angry is what he thinks she has done: caused Conrad's suicide attempt. Calvin denies thinking such thoughts, and tells his wife that he loves her. They are in a full-fledged fight, however, and Beth wants to be left alone. She begins to sob. She states that Conrad's suicide attempt was just his way of manipulating his parents by proving what he was capable of. Calvin will not believe her; he remembers his son in the hospital demanding that he be left to die. Conrad had been sorry about the boating accident, but not about the suicide attempt.

The action then moves back to Lake Forest after Calvin and Beth have returned home. Calvin is thinking alone. He knows he must say something important to Beth, and he chews over phrases in his mind while thinking about her and his son. Conrad says that he is glad to have his father home. He then bids a hasty goodnight to Beth and moves swiftly upstairs, leaving Calvin and Beth in silence.

Commentary

At the end of Chapter 29, it has become apparent that Beth and Calvin will not heal their marriage. When Calvin comes in and bids goodnight to Beth, we are elegantly shown through Beth's silent reaction that she is prepared to leave. In fact, we can even assume that she will not be sharing a bed with her husband that night. Calvin's demeanor in the chapter also leads us to believe that he knows that he is about to be separated from her. This is perhaps the climax of the Calvin-Beth conflict. A brief denouement will follow in chapter 31 when Beth and Calvin will formally part ways with Beth's assertion that only Calvin has changed.

Indeed, Beth's characterization reaches some of its finest moments in these last chapters of the novel. A secondary character in the story of Calvin and Conrad, Beth was painted throughout the novel as a perpetual actress--one who keeps up appearances of happiness and tranquility no matter what. As a result, we realize all the more greatly the significance of her loss of control in Houston when she fails to conceal her marital conflicts from her brother and step-sister. Beth sits in the house crying over her son and husband, knowing that she is releasing to her extended family what she had hoped to keep secret. Based on the way she had been cast previously in the novel, we see all the more the significance of her outburst.

The stream-of-consciousness narrative of chapter 27 also exhibits some of Guest's refined talents as a writer. Notice that Conrad's memories that are included in the text nicely compliment the other themes emerging in the novel: punishment, blame and hurting others. We also see for the first time in the novel a complete picture of what Conrad's basic problem is: he blames himself ceaselessly for the death of Buck. He recalls vividly the night Buck drowned, and he cannot help but see the accident as any thing other than his own fault. More importantly, Berger has fully recognized this, and he is helping Conrad to heal by encouraging him to allow himself to feel the pain rather than suppressing all feeling. Berger also has identified Conrad's basic identity crisis: he strives to fill the shoes of Buck at all times. If Ordinary People is indeed meant to be read partly as a psychological mystery story, Chapter 27 reveals who (or what) the culprit is. The story of Conrad has reached its climax, and the result is that Conrad is finally on the road to a real recovery.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us