Study Guide

Ordinary People Mortality

By Judith Guest


No, we're not here to talk about the death of disco. But let's have a quick moment of silence for disco, which died on July 12, 1979, when 60,000 fans crowded Chicago's Comiskey Park to destroy their own disco records. Give your disco ball a spin, hang your head, and try not to think of "I Will Survive" during our silent moment.

Done? Okay, good. While many may have mourned the death of disco, it was no serious loss. Music, in other forms, lives on. In Ordinary People, the Jarrett family is grappling with a much more difficult death—the death of a family member. Even though it happens off the page, the death of Buck has many ripple effects, which the rest of the Jarretts must live with on a daily basis. Death may be hardest for those left behind.

Questions About Mortality

  1. Why does Conrad attempt to take his own life?
  2. How does each family member react to Buck's death? Describe each person's grieving process.
  3. Does Conrad seem aloof regarding his own suicide attempt? Does he take it seriously?
  4. What resources are available today to families who lose a child?

Chew on This

Conrad has a casual attitude toward death because for him, nothing can be worse than the death of his brother—not even his own death.

The Jarrett family doesn't realize that they are still grieving for Buck, because they push all negative feelings away. They must learn that grieving is a life-long process in order to actually come together as a family.

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