Study Guide

Ordinary People Family

By Judith Guest

Family

Awkward family photos were at peak awkwardness in the 1970s. But what's more awkward than having a photo of your entire family in tweed suits, gold chains, and lots of chest hair (and that's just Mom we're talking about)?

Having no family photos is also pretty awkward. And if we could take a peek at the Jarrett family's mantel in Ordinary People, we'd probably find no family photos. Unable to confront the death of their son Buck, they'd likely remove all the photos of him from public. And since they barely spend more than five minutes in the same room together, we can't imagine them getting their acts together for long enough to sit in a Sears Portrait Studio.

If a family has no pictures to prove that they're a family, are they really a family at all?

Questions About Family

  1. How has Buck's death affected the Jarrett family? Why do they pull apart rather than come together in this time of crisis?
  2. What do you think family life will be like for the Jarretts after the book's epilogue? Can they ever rebuild?
  3. How do other people perceive the Jarrett family? Are they a "perfect" suburban family from the outside? How does the pressure to be perfect affect them? Where does the pressure come from?

Chew on This

The actual process of striving to be a "perfect" family is what pulls the Jarretts apart. If they would relax a little bit and accept things as they are, they wouldn't be so dysfunctional.

Other families in the book seem happy on the surface, like Jeannine's, but the more we get to know them, the more we realize that all families have their problems. It's important for Conrad to learn this so that he knows he is not alone.

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