Study Guide

Ordinary People Isolation

By Judith Guest


There were 218 million people in the United States in 1976, almost 100 million fewer than the there are today. There were also about 100 million fewer Starbucks, which was founded in 1971, and no one was on Twitter or Instagram because Kim Kardashian wasn't born yet. So how were people supposed to meet each other?

It could be a very lonely existence for people, especially if they weren't into disco. In Ordinary People, the Jarrett family operates more as three individuals than as a close family unit. The death of one son has torn the family apart, and they retreat into themselves instead of dealing with it together. And what's that saying about united we stand, divided we fall? It seems obvious, but this family can't stay together if they're emotionally apart.

Questions About Isolation

  1. Why does Conrad isolate himself from his friends and family?
  2. Does the isolation hurt Conrad? Or does it help him?
  3. What methods do Conrad's friends and parents use to reconnect with him? Are they effective?
  4. Is it easier or harder for a person to be alone today than it was in the 1970s? Or is loneliness just loneliness, plain and simple?

Chew on This

Conrad's isolation has its benefits: it allows him to try and get his thoughts in order about his brother's death and his own suicide attempt. But it's also like a trap, which holds him in and makes him afraid to reconnect with the real world.

Conrad inherited his isolationist tendencies from his mother. Beth is the queen of avoiding problems and running away to be alone. She does not change during the book; Conrad does.

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