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Ordinary People

Judith Guest

Chapters 7-8

Chapter 5-6

Chapters 9-10

Summary

In a small diner, Conrad is meeting his old friend Karen, who was in the hospital at the same time as him. They make light conversation, each remembering how close they were in the hospital, talking sometimes for hours together. Karen says that she cannot stay long because she has a drama meeting at school that evening. There is a moment of awkwardness when Conrad begins to silently resent driving all the way to the drugstore only to see her briefly. He tells Karen about school and swimming. He also tells her that he is seeing a psychiatrist. Karen too met with one but gave up on it after she felt like she got nothing from it. She says that "the only one who can help you is you. Well, you and God." They joke some more about their lives and memories. Karen tells him not to get down, and Conrad protests that he is not down. Karen announces that she must leave and departs. After she leaves, Conrad regrets not inviting her to a swim meet, but then realizes that he should not assume she would even want to go to that. He thinks of himself as a "screwed-up bastard." He is obviously upset by the way things went, and as he leaves, he thinks to himself, "Okay Karen we'll see you around who needs you anyway who the fuck needs anybody?"

The action moves to Calvin, who is relaxing at home on Saturday evening. He has had a busy and productive day. As he drinks scotch, he realizes that he has come to drink more and more recently because the alcohol helps him deal with his problems. He goes into the living room, where Conrad watches TV. Conrad tells him that because of an upcoming history midterm, he is not going out with his friends. Calvin tries to keep a conversation going, but it is clear that Conrad does not have anything to say, so Calvin asks Conrad if he may be interested in a trip to London over Christmas. Calvin tells Conrad that he would rather go in the spring, and Conrad replies that he is willing to go over Christmas if that is what Beth prefers. Beth then appears in the room and tells Calvin that they are late for their party. Calvin is secretly hesitant to leave, however, because he cannot help feeling worried for his son deep down.

On the way to the party, Beth tells Calvin that she knew Conrad would have been willing to go to London. But in order to prevent a fight, the two drop the subject and talk about the party they're about to attend. Calvin makes it clear that he would rather see a movie than go to the party. They arrive nevertheless, and immediately begin drinking and chatting with the other guests. Calvin's friends tell lawyer jokes to him, and he pretends to be amused even though he finds such jokes distasteful. One woman named Sara flirts extensively with Calvin even though he does not return her advances. Some of the guests ask about Conrad, but Beth answers their questions in a flat fashion so as to reveal nothing about her son. After dinner, however, the guests question Calvin more about Conrad, making him uncomfortable. Calvin tells them that Conrad has been seeing a psychiatrist. Suddenly Beth interjects and tells Calvin that it is late, and they must leave. Calvin senses immediately that Beth is angry that he told the guests about Conrad. Beth says that his outburst was "in the worst possible taste" and a "violation of privacy," although whose privacy she will not say.

Calvin enters Conrad's room when he gets home to find his son asleep. Calvin stares at Conrad as he lies there, noticing the long scar left after the suicide attempt. Calvin is very worried that Conrad may feel like a failure, and he prays that the exams will be easy. Calvin thinks that Conrad may be too high an achiever. He returns to his room, where Beth is waiting for him. They have sex, but afterwards Calvin lies awake for hours thinking about and listening to his memories.

Commentary

Chapter Seven again shows us two sides of Conrad's personality conflicting with one another. On the one hand, he does make an effort to reach out to others. It was Conrad, after all, who invited Karen out to the diner. He also remains his usual joking self as they drink. But when Karen announces they must leave, Conrad becomes particularly insecure, thinking that Karen is not interested in him as a person. He thinks that she would not want to go to one of his swim meets. He leaves with the resolution that he doesn't need anybody. These glimpses into Conrad's mind are becoming deeper and more frequent: he is not just the nice boy struggling to get up for school in the first chapter. We are beginning to see his darker and violent side, which is closely tied in to the highly vulnerable facets of his personality. After the evening does not go as he had hoped, for instance, he lashes out inside his own mind against all people and Karen in particular. Conrad is clearly troubled and depressed, but those two aspects are both contained within him; they do not emerge. This will change as the novel progresses and Conrad learns to speak out more. His angry side will also be explored in greater detail in later chapters.

In this section we see that there is a playful side to Calvin's and Beth's relationship. At times, in fact, it may even seem that the two have no problems. In the car on the way to the party, for example, they appear to be a happily married couple. In fact, Beth seems to forget many of the problems related to her son when she is away from the house going somewhere else. However, we see also that she is a very private person. She immediately leaves the party when Calvin tells the others that Conrad is seeing a psychiatrist. Beth is obviously deeply concerned with appearances and the impression her family makes on other people. Calvin even notices at the party that Beth appears always to be cool and collected. She seems to have a dual personality--one for social occasions and one for private ones.

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