Study Guide

Ordinary People Family

By Judith Guest


"He goes off every day looking like a bum, Cal." (2.6)

No matter how old you are, you and your parents are from different generations, and they probably hate the sloppy way you dress. Conrad's mom is no different.

Being a father is more than trusting to luck. (2.15)

Calvin agonizes a lot about what it means to be a father. One important role a dad has: keeping his kids alive. Calvin has failed at that once—and almost twice. Whether or not it is his fault doesn't matter. The incidents have made him question his value as a dad.

She would have to drive him. She has a golf game; it would make her late. (3.1)

These two sentences speak volumes about Conrad's mother. Nothing comes between her and her golf game. Not even taking her son to school. Beth is the priority at all times, whether she admits it or not.

Another duty of fatherhood. Checking up. Signing commitment papers, and other papers, authorizing certain specified treatments. Protecting yourself from further grief, from any more facts of history that do not change; that cannot be changed. (4.86)

Perhaps because Calvin is an attorney, he thinks of fatherhood from the point of view of paperwork. It's a way for him to displace his emotions. He can avoid feeling stressed or upset about the fact that his son is being committed to a mental hospital, since there is just so much paperwork to do. Ack.

If it was up to [Calvin], he would give [Conrad] everything—sun and moon, eternal happiness, serene and uncomplicated, Here, will this fix it? (11.58)

As a dad, Calvin would do anything to help his son, and he feels helpless and hopeless that nothing he can do will change how Conrad feels. Conrad must help himself.

"Listen, my mother and I do not connect, I told you that before." (12.29)

The distance between Conrad and Beth grows wider as the book progresses. Both of them talk a lot to others about not connecting, but neither one of them makes much of an effort to actually connect.

"That's ridiculous. Your mother does not hate you—" (13.119)

Calvin is interrupted before he can continue, which is a good thing, because it would be difficult to find proof that Beth doesn't hate Conrad. "Because she's his mother" isn't a good enough answer in this situation. If Beth does love Conrad, she never really shows it.

"Like she can't love you enough. Like she loves you as much as she's able. Perspective, kiddo, remember? Maybe she's afraid, maybe it's hard for her to give love." (14.40)

There's a certain level of expectation put upon a mother. Because Beth loves differently (if you believe this theory), does that make her a bad mother?

"Well, maybe rotten sons deserve lousy fathers." (17.83)

Berger is being sarcastic here, trying to convince Calvin, with humor, that Conrad isn't a rotten son and that Calvin isn't a lousy father. He's trying to show Conrad that he isn't responsible for his parents' behavior.

When he sees Lazenby's mother, he remembers their house, all warmth and friendliness. (18.50)

One nice thing about having close friends is that their families unofficially adopt you into their own. This can be comforting when your own family life, like Conrad's, is less than warm and friendly.

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