Study Guide

Ordinary People What's Up With the Ending?

By Judith Guest

What's Up With the Ending?

Round and Round and Round She Goes

Like a recurring dream about that geometry test you failed freshman year, the Jarretts are going around in circles. After a huge fight with Beth, Conrad thinks, "Circles and more circles, where does it end? How can it end?" (28.98). They've been having the same fight all throughout the book—it's about how to handle Conrad—and it just keeps getting bigger without going anyway.

What else goes around in circles? Toilet water down the drain, that's what.

We'll give Beth some credit, we guess, because she flushes the theoretical toilet and leaves the family.

It's kind of surprising that she does this, actually, because the night before, she let Conrad give her a hug. That's a huge thing for Beth—but note that she doesn't seem to reciprocate it. And as the text says, "Her face is hidden from Cal, also" (29.21). Beth's still a mystery, when all Calvin wants is to figure her out.

But Beth can't figure herself out, so she jumps from this sinking ship, which leaves her a great mystery to us, too. Add "What's up with Beth Jarrett?" to "Is there life on other planets?" and "Would Twinkies survive a nuclear holocaust?" to the list of questions the world may never know the answer to.

Good Cal Hunting

On the other hand, Calvin and Conrad totally have their Good Will Hunting moment when they tell each other that "It's nobody's fault" (31.68). What is "it" here? No, not New Coke. They're talking about Buck's death, Conrad's suicide attempt, Beth's flight from the family. You know, the whole family falling apart, which isn't nearly as bad as New Coke.

The men come to peace with each other, and Conrad, in the epilogue, comes to peace with his mother. After she leaves, he finds mementos she saved, and he thinks, "Do you save stuff like that if it means nothing to you?" (Epilogue.41). He's learned that she loves in a different way—by compartmentalizing everything and expressing nothing. We're not sure what the next step is, but there's a shot he might try to rebuild his relationship with her. Or maybe he'll wait for her to take the next step.

One step he does take is toward his friend Joe Lazenby. By making up with Lazenby, Conrad makes himself vulnerable. He admits that he has flaws, and he was wrong. Beth could learn something from her son here. By trying to act special, you set yourself up for disappointment. The secret to being happy isn't to be extraordinary, but simply to be an ordinary, flawed person.