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Ordinary People

Judith Guest

Chapters 30-31, Epilogue

Chapters 27-29

Analysis

Summary

Conrad is hanging out with Jeannine at her house, chatting about the future and Jeannine's plans to go off to college (Conrad will stay in Illinois to finish high school). They are also working on guitar music. Jeannine mentions on a tangent that Suzanne Mosley has a huge crush on Conrad. They make more chit-chat about high school before going upstairs to have sex. Afterwards, Jeannine talks about losing her virginity in her more reckless days as a teenager in her old town in Ohio. She recalls a time she got caught shoplifting with some friends, and she nearly cries to think of how understanding her father had been in helping her. Jeannine feels Conrad's scars from his wrist-slashing. They talk briefly about his suicide attempt. Conrad cannot explain why he did it except that he felt like he was in a hole that was getting deeper and encompassing him. He says that he does not believe in God, and so he does not believe that God punishes people. Then the two of them relax together; Conrad thinks how good it is to be in touch with himself.

The final chapter focuses on Calvin, who has just been left by Beth. She does not say goodbye to Conrad. She says that when Calvin suggested counseling, she knew she had to leave him. The two of them had too different expectations. They had been fighting for weeks up until her departure, with Calvin always trying to mend everything. Nevertheless, he thinks that Beth no longer loves him, but Beth maintains that Calvin is the only one who has changed. Howard and Ellen, as well as Ray, are all "thunderstruck" by the news. Calvin explains to Conrad the morning of Beth's departure that she has gone for an indefinite period, and slowly Conrad begins to put two and two together. Calvin announces that the two of them will move to a rented house in Evanston, where Conrad will finish high school the following year. Conrad is hasty to criticize his mother for her departure, but Calvin quickly points out Conrad's ability to dish out criticism but his refusal to take any. Conrad apologizes to his dad, and says that he ought to criticize him more often. Calvin is pleased. He tells Conrad that Beth's departure is no one's fault, but he does not know any details of her leaving. Conrad tells his father that he loves him, and Calvin returns the affirmation, nearly sending both men to tears as the chapter ends.

The Epilogue is set that fall, in the new house in Evanston where Conrad and Calvin have moved. Conrad wraps up his sessions with Dr Berger, concluding that they will remain friends. Conrad, wishing to make amends, goes to Lazenby's house. They exchange greetings and chit chat. Conrad invites Lazenby to go golfing, an offer which Lazenby accepts. The novel ends on an optimistic note for Conrad; he is fixing his life one friend at a time, he is done with his therapy and he is settled in to a new environment.

Commentary

Once again, we see that Jeannine is a type of foil for Conrad. Although Jeannine mentions her father only briefly in relation to the shoplifting incident, it is clear that he has a very similar attitude to that of Calvin. He is a perpetual worrier and self-blamer, just like Conrad's father. Of course, by this point in the novel we know that Conrad's parents will end up essentially the same way Jeannine's did; that question, which was introduced earlier in the novel, has been answered. We also see that Jeannine and Conrad make a good pair; they are both clearly agents of healing for one another. They both have troubled pasts, and they both take solace in each other's company to share those memories.

The last few chapters of Ordinary People do a good job of tying off the major loose ends in the novel. For the first time in the novel, for instance, we see Calvin actually criticize Conrad to his face. Until that point we have never before seen Calvin put his foot down so hard. Furthermore, Conrad even thanks him for doing so; Conrad recognizes his own faults as an individual. Although it may seem that the breakdown between Beth and Calvin is a negative way to end the novel, the lack of love between the husband and wife is counterbalanced by the reaffirmation of love between the father and the son. Indeed, Ordinary People is about Conrad and Calvin, not Beth. The two men have had a silent communication breakdown throughout the novel. Both have been hindered by the past and their memories. Conrad has been at conflict with the social world around him, while Calvin has been at conflict with his wife. At the end of the novel, both men are clear of those conflicts for the first time, and they find each other. Ordinary People can be seen accurately as the story of how a son and a father come to appreciate and love one another despite a dark past full of tragedy and pain.

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