Study Guide

Ordinary People Coming of Age

By Judith Guest

Coming of Age

Growing up is serious business. He, Cal, would not be young again, not for anything. And not without sponsors: a mother and father, good fortune. God. (2.75)

Conrad, Calvin's son, has one out of four. We'd say one of four ain't bad, but it is. His mother is emotionally distant, so cross her off the list. He doesn't believe in God. And his brother drowned while he watched. That's the opposite of good fortune. Things aren't gonna be easy for this kid.

"Behind what? The Great Schedule in the Sky? The Golden Gradebook? What?" (9.53)

Many teenagers feel overscheduled, and Conrad is no different. He feels like being overscheduled is the norm, and if he takes a break, he will be below average.

"I jack off a lot. It helps." (12.37)

As a growing young man, Conrad often turns to sexual pleasures to cope. However, like many things in life, Conrad the loner also does sex by himself. At least at this point in the book.

"He looks handsome, that's it, with those long, thick eyelashes, like a girl's. The build is all boy, though—all angles, elbows, and knees." (15.14)

Conrad is in a slightly awkward phase, based on this description. But it's an attractive awkward. He could be the member of a boy band.

"Kids, they sure do grow up in a hurry, don't they?" (15.47)

We have to wonder how Beth really feels about Conrad growing up. We never get any flashbacks to a happier time, so we're not sure if she was ever a warm, caring mother, or if she's just counting down the days until he leaves the nest. Does she also feel uncomfortable with the fact that he's growing up?

"He's not your little boy," she says. "He'll be eighteen years old next month. For some reason, you want to think he needs your constant concern and protection." (15.68)

Conrad's growing up is harder for his parents than it is for himself sometimes. Well, it's harder for Calvin. Beth just seems eager to get rid of him.

Eighteen years old in two weeks. Two weeks, ye gods, and what does he know? (16.14)

Here, Conrad is thinking about his inexperience with the opposite sex. It's something that stresses out many people, of both genders, as they worry about things like losing their virginity.

"Late-bloomers." (20.71)

Jeannine says that Capricorns, which is Conrad's sign, are late bloomers. Yet she says it in a non-judgmental way, which is important, and this makes him feel at ease with her, despite his lack of experience.

"Already I'm thinking about next fall," Jeannine says. "Isn't that dumb? I don't want to go away now." (30.1)

Many teenagers dream of getting away from their parents, but when the time actually comes, they suddenly find themselves afraid of what might happen next. Although they're sick of the routine, the big scary real world doesn't have a routine, and all that freedom can be frightening.

They lie drugged and submerged, facing each other on the bed. (30.51)

Conrad and Jeannine aren't literally drugged. Their heads are swimming in hormones. With all the pressure Conrad puts on himself to lose his virginity, it finally happens. A coming-of-age story wouldn't be complete without this monumental event. And unlike in many stories, Conrad's first time actually goes pretty well, which is good—this kid has other things to stress about.