Skip over navigation

Ordinary People

Judith Guest

Chapters 9-10

Chapters 7-8

Chapters 11-12

Summary

The next day in school, Conrad is given a surprise quiz in trig class. He begins to panic as he tried to convince himself that he knows the material. He finishes the quiz and leaves, worrying about a girl named Suzanne who has particular difficulty with math. He sees Suzanne come out of the classroom and start crying by herself. Conrad goes to speak with her, and she tells him that her dad will kill her unless she does well in trig. Conrad assures her that trig is useless in real life. He offers to help her study after school. Later, in the locker room, Stillman taunts Conrad, asking him whether or not Suzanne is easy. Stillman offers to tell Conrad whether Pratt is easy if Conrad will tell him about Suzanne. Conrad is hurt and infuriated, and leaves thinking, "To hell with them forever." That night, in bed, Conrad thinks over his day before going to sleep. He tries to control his anger, and he resolves to laugh off the taunting in the future. He then thinks about his trig test and feels confident that he at least passed. He recalls failing a quiz in math the previous year and subsequently being questioned about his health. That was the time in his life when he skipped classes at random. He had spent Christmas that year in Florida, but he only remembers seeing the "ceaseless, remorseless blue of the ocean." Conrad then falls asleep and has a bizarre nightmare in which he becomes trapped in an ever-shrinking tunnel with a light at its end. He wakes up screaming, and he feels terrible.

The next day he has another appointment with Dr. Berger, who tells him that he doesn't "hold stock" in dreams, or in anything at all for that matter. Berger asks Conrad to lie on the floor in order to change his perspective and "stead[y] the blood." Berger knows that something is making Conrad nervous, and he asks him what. Conrad confesses that he does not want to swim anymore because he is not good at it and he no longer likes the other people on the team. Conrad also confesses that he is scared to quit because of the negative image it will produce. He dislikes Coach Salan because of his insensitive comments. The therapy session, however, ends before Conrad can reach resolution.

The story then moves to Lazenby, Stillman and some others on the swimming team who are in the locker room after practice. Conrad, outside the door, overhears their conversation. The young men are going off together that evening, and Lazenby says that he wants to invite Conrad. Stillman, however, criticizes Conrad for being a "flake" and tells Lazenby to stop always including Conrad. Conrad, outside, decides he has heard enough and leaves. He goes to Coach Salan and announces his decision to quit the team. Salan is clearly disappointed, and he says that once Conrad quits, he cannot come back. Conrad confirms his decision, then goes to the locker room to shower and pack up his equipment. He goes outside to join the others in the car pool. Lazenby invites Conrad out with the guys, but Conrad declines, saying he must study. Lazenby offers to pick Conrad up the next morning, but Conrad declines again. When they arrive at his house, he thanks Lazenby and leaves the car without telling them that he quit the team. Conrad goes up to his room and falls deep into thought. He believes that everything in his life is excessive. He dreads the night because he is unable to sleep. He suffers serious insomnia, and sometimes thinks that he tried to kill himself just so that he could finally get some sleep. He has learned through experience, however, that masturbation can help him fall asleep, and so he practices it on a regular basis each night.

Commentary

Conrad's search for control is one of the major threads in the novel. It is, after all, the self-described goal of his therapy. In Chapter Nine, we see clearly his attempts to control his own rage, which is growing stronger because of his dealings with Stillman and his friends. He considers anger to be a "luxury" that he cannot afford. Conrad is clearly a very disciplined man, but his obsession with control is not aimed so much at making him happier as it is aimed at making him more self-sufficient. He wants self-control around his parents, for instance, so that they will stop worrying about him and asking him how he is doing. He wants self-control around his peers so that they will stop taunting him and leave him alone. In both cases, Conrad desires control so that he can avoid more interaction with others. Indeed, he seeks to gain control as he calls it in order to remain secure in his own seclusion.

Conrad interestingly exhibits characteristics of each of his parents. Obviously, Conrad inherited his sense of society from his mother, who as we have seen is very concerned about keeping up certain appearances before her friends. Conrad worries what others will think of him if he quits the swim team. Conrad also shows two of his father's main traits, his self-blame and his ability to listen.

Indeed, Conrad often seems like a character caught between two different personalities. Part of this feature is the result of the fact that throughout the novel he is in a type of transition period. As he is back in school, he is realizing that he does not have the academic potential he once enjoyed. Nevertheless, he has difficulty forgetting his old self-image as a brilliant student. As a result, he is oftentimes driven to be that great student (hence his desire to not "fall back" on his work), but his drive is stunted by the reality of his academic weakness.

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