Study Guide

Ordinary People Dissatisfaction

By Judith Guest


The 1970s were a hard time for many people, and we don't just mean the neck pain from holding up those giant 'fros. The economy was in recession. Unemployment was high, and gas prices were, too. So even if you saved up a bunch of dough for a new pair of bellbottoms, you were better off walking to get them. (Source)

However, the Jarrett family in Ordinary People isn't dealing with any of that: they're well off enough to travel the globe and buy their son a brand-new car for Christmas. Yet they're all depressed. While some might label this #suburbanwhitefolkproblems or #affluenza, the novel shows us that depression is universal. Its cause can be hard to pinpoint, and it can be even harder to treat.

Being depressed is part of the human experience, no matter who you are or what's in your bank account.

Questions About Dissatisfaction

  1. What is the source of Conrad's depression? How does he work toward getting to the root of his depression? What suggestions does Dr. Berger give to help him?
  2. Are Conrad's parents also depressed? If so, how does their depression manifest differently from Conrad's?
  3. Do people talk about and react to depression in the 1970s the same way they react to it today? Or has society's attitude toward depression changed?

Chew on This

Conrad learns that depression isn't the same as sadness. Depression is a reduction of feeling. He must get in touch with all his emotions, even sadness and anger, in order to recover.

Beth is a perfectionist, which leads her to be dissatisfied with anything less than perfection. Since perfection is impossible, she's dissatisfied most of the time, and her husband and son are disappointed in themselves for not living up to her impossibly high standards.

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