Study Guide

Ordinary People Coming of Age

By Judith Guest

Coming of Age

Anyone coming of age in the 1970s, like Conrad Jarrett in Ordinary People, was born in the 1960s. The 60s were a weird decade, characterized by both protests—Civil Rights, feminism, and anti-war—and in-your-face leisure—TV, Woodstock, and a general lack of hygiene.

Not that these things stopped in the 1970s, but it was a quieter time, and people showered a little more often. Conrad, living in the suburbs, makes it seem like the most boring time ever to grow up. How is a boy supposed to define himself if his most definitive years involve choosing between playing golf or going swimming?

No matter what decade you grew up in or are growing up in, it probably seems like the most boring decade ever. Everything is boring when you're at that pivotal age. So that makes Conrad's relatively mundane coming-of-age story all the more relatable…unless you grew up on a pirate ship or something.

Questions About Coming of Age

  1. How is Conrad's coming-of-age story similar to other stories like his, stories like Catcher in the Rye or The Bell Jar?
  2. In what ways are Conrad's parents still coming of age?
  3. How does the suicide attempt delay Conrad's coming of age? Does it accelerate it in other ways?

Chew on This

Conrad doesn't have the best role models in his parents. His one role model is his brother, but his brother is dead. As a result, Conrad's coming-of-age process is especially confusing.

However, Buck's death forces Conrad to decide who he really wants to be and not just to copy his brother. The incident forces Conrad to take steps toward becoming his own person.