Study Guide

Ordinary People Guilt and Blame

By Judith Guest

Guilt and Blame

The 1970s can be blamed for a lot of things. The Leisure Suit. Watergate. And "Disco Duck." Oh, the pain of "Disco Duck."

But the Jarrett family in Ordinary People isn't concerned with any of this stuff. They're too trapped in the moment to realize they're making any mistakes. What they're worried about is death and suicide, two things that often come bundled with together with guilt and blame. When Buck dies unexpectedly, the other members of his family blame themselves—and each other—which starts a volatile chain reaction that eventually tears the family apart.

Questions About Guilt and Blame

  1. Why does Conrad blame himself for Buck's death? Is his suicide attempt a result of this guilt, or does he attempt suicide for other reasons?
  2. Does Beth blame herself for anything? Should she?
  3. What does Calvin feel guilty for?
  4. How do Calvin and Beth deal with their guilt?

Chew on This

In Ordinary People, blame has only negative effects. Whether you blame yourself, as Conrad and Calvin do, or blame others, as Beth does, you can bet your attitude is going to be destructive.

One way to deal with guilt is to talk about it. That's why Conrad is in therapy. But if the family, especially Beth, were more open to talking through issues together, they might be able to resolve them together.