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Ordinary People by Judith Guest is a very emotional book that deals with many
thoughts and actions about life and suicide. A lot of people would have different opinions
or perspectives about this story. My thesis question for this book is: Does the author
Judith Guest try to prove that even the perfect family can fall apart? In this novel, regular
or “ordinary people” have to learn to cope with many extraordinary crises.
In Ordinary People, Conrad Jarrett is a seventeen year old boy attending a public
high school in the suburbs of Illinois. He and his family go through many stressful
struggles after Conrad’s brother Jordan dies in a boating accident. Jordan’s death
influences Conrad so much that he even cuts up his wrists and tries to commit suicide but
he does not die. Conrad struggles with a lot of things including school, quitting the
swimming team, and his friends. Conrad’s mother Beth, is a perfectionist and is always
concerned about the way people view her and her family. She wishes for everyone to see
them as “normal”. Conrad’s Dad Cal feels he is somewhat responsible for Conrad’s
suicide attempt. He also believes that Conrad and Beth are drifting away from each other
and he doesn’t know who to follow. The story ends when Beth leaves home to go away
for a while because she can’t get along with her family.
In this book, the title does give a clue about a possible theme. The term “ordinary
people” is mentioned several times in this book. There can be many different themes for
this book although my theme did not come from the title. My theme is: even a perfect
family can fall apart and sometimes fall into a mental stress, due to a life changing event. I
think this because everything is perfect before Jordan dies. Everything and everyone
seems to fall apart after his accident. For example, Conrad attempts to commit suicide as
a result of Jordan’s death and some more various other reasons. One time in the book,
Conrad says “I wanted to commit suicide because I needed more sleep and less stress”.
The main conflict in this book for the Jarrett family is learning to cope with
extraordinary crises. The whole Jarrett family tries to cope with Jordan’s death but they
don’t succeed very well. This conflict affects Conrad the most since he attempted to kill
himself. Other small conflicts seem to build around this major conflict. For example, after
Conrad tried to kill himself, his mother thought that he was trying to hurt her for some
reason. She never feels the need to forgive him for what he has done to himself. This
brings much tension between Conrad and his mother Beth. This small problem also affects
Cal’s and Beth’s relationship with each other because they fight often and do not get along
There are a few unusual objects in this story that I think changes the mood of some
characters. One unusual object is a small business card in Dr. Berger’s office. The card
reads, “I love you. Is this ok? signed Jesus C.” This is unusual because it is almost like
Jesus Christ is talking to Conrad personally. Conrad and his family does not ever turn to
Jesus Christ for help in these hard times. Another unusual object is Conrad’s new car.
Conrad thinks that his parents are only giving it to him just to be saying, “here now be
happy and leave us alone”. Although Conrad’s parents do not actually feel this way about
it, Conrad does.
The dialogue in this story is very realistic. The dialogue seems to be focusing on
the Jarrett family and how realistic and dramatic things can be. The character’s words say
a lot about the character. Conrad’s words for example, are honest and dramatic. I think
Conrad is the heroic one because he overcomes many tough obstacles in life. I also
believe that he is the protagonist in this story and his struggle with the obstacles is the
One main internal conflict is one between Conrad and himself. He struggles with
many changes in life and he wants to please everyone. His worst struggle and biggest fear
was suicide and the thought of it. He continually struggles with the thoughts of suicidal
attempts and the fears that go with them. Conrad also has a conflict in his head because
he asks himself weird questions and doesn’t even know why. He also has terrible
nightmares that are internal. He often
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Lake Forest, Illinois, Ordinary People, English-language films, Conrad II of Italy, Conrad, Joseph Conrad
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