The older than Conrad and always finding ways to

The novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest is centered around the events that occur after a tragic death in the Jarrett family, an affluent family living in the suburbs. The Jarrett family is composed of Conrad, Cal, and Beth Jarrett. Conrad is a seventeen year-old high schooler who struggles to live a normal life after the passing of Conrad’s brother, and Conrad has a difficult time connecting and interacting with family members and peers. Cal is the father of Conrad and Beth’s husband, and Cal is ceaselessly overprotective of Conrad throughout most of the novel. Beth is the polar opposite of Cal in relation to Conrad as Beth appears to detest Conrad and refuses to convey affection towards the boy. The Jarrett family is strongly affected throughout Ordinary People by naturalistic events and characters outside the family. Buck’s death creates a rift in the family that would prove to be irreparable, the faults of the main characters lead to disputes and eventual bonding between them, and outside influences like Dr. Berger, Stillman, and Lazenby further impact the beliefs and actions of Conrad, Cal, and Beth. These naturalistic traits and story elements provide for change and adaptation in the lives of the Jarretts. Naturalism (in the philosophical sense) is the belief that natural laws are the only governing laws of the universe and that there are no spiritual or supernatural powers affecting the world known by mankind. Naturalism in literature is similar; it is the idea that the environment shaping and determining the actions of characters in a story. Ordinary People is heavily focused on naturalistic events, the biggest of them being the death of Jordan “Buck” Jarrett, Conrad’s brother. Buck was older than Conrad and always finding ways to get in trouble, but nevertheless Conrad looked up to Buck and saw a role model in the older boy. Around eighteen months before the novel begins, the two brothers go on a boating trip and get caught in a terrifyingly destructive storm. Their boat capsizes, and after clinging to the overturned vessel for a period of time Buck lets go and is pulled under the water, never to be seen again by Conrad or the rest of their family. This uncontrollable and unprecedented event is arguably the most impactful incident that befalls Conrad, Cal, and Beth in the Ordinary People timeline. The entire family is devastated by Buck’s death, and each member responds to the death in their own fashion. Conrad feels solely responsible for the death of Buck, leading to a suicide attempt by slitting both wrists with a razor blade. Cal and Beth are already devastated by the loss of their first child, and Conrad’s suicide attempt did nothing to help the parents cope with their grief. It is this incident that produces Cal’s overprotectiveness of the surviving child, as well as Beth’s firm impression that Conrad hates Beth and wants to cause even more pain for the family. Throughout the story, Cal slowly comes to the realization that Conrad doesn’t require constant oversight to live a safe and functional life. Beth, on the other hand, continues to rebuke Conrad and Conrad’s attempted peace offerings. Naturalism may also be found in uncontrollable character traits or aspects, and in Ordinary People character personalities deeply affect character relations. Each of the main characters possess a major quality unique to themselves that influences their communications and ties with other primary and secondary characters. Beth’s inability to express love or affection towards Conrad, especially after the death of Buck, is the largest conflict between the two for the duration of the book. Beth is emotionally unable to identify with Conrad or remotely begin to understand the boy as a person and views Conrad as nothing more than a nuisance and a taint on the Jarrett name. Near the beginning of the book, Beth and Cal are discussing the family vacation for the end of the year. Cal believes that it should be postponed due to Conrad’s instability and fragility, but Beth doesn’t seem to understand that Conrad may not be able to handle a trip to a foreign country. Cal is arguing for Conrad and Beth is arguing for herself, utilizing phrases such as: “we go away for Christmas every year”, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to blame ourselves for what happened”, and “you know how good it feels to get away” (Guest 28-29). In Beth’s mind, Beth is the priority and Conrad is an inconvenience that Beth would rather not deal with. This attitude towards Conrad is enough to drive the boy away from her, not to mention causing Cal to eventually challenge Beth’s perspective of life by saying, “Can’t you see anything except in terms of how it affects you?”, to which she responds with “No!” (Guest 238), confirming to the readers that Beth puts personal wants and needs before everyone else. Beth’s incapacity to express emotions creates a wedge between Beth and Conrad, but it also eventually produces a divide between Beth and Cal. Near the end of the novel, Cal and Beth are arguing as Beth packs up to leave the Jarrett household. “What I need” Cal says, ” is for us to talk to each other! I want to talk to you, Beth, but when I try you freeze me out.” (Guest 253). The line Cal just spoke reflects Beth’s attitude throughout the book towards anything that may potentially upset the carefully crafted life of luxury that Beth leads. Similarly to Beth, Cal also tends to judge events based on how it affects someone; unlike Beth, Cal views events in light of how they may affect Conrad, not Cal. ┬áCal’s self-granted role in the novel is the concerned father who wants Conrad to feel safe and secure, and after Conrad’s suicide attempt Cal feels that his duties as a father are more important than ever before. In the beginning of the novel, Conrad is telling Cal at the breakfast table that a friend named Joe Lazenby is giving Conrad a ride to school. When Cal hears that Conrad is hanging out with old friends again Cal overzealously exclaims “Great!” (Guest 10), implying that Cal is very concerned with Conrad’s mental state. Cal is also the one to insist that Conrad keep seeing psychiatrists, no matter how many Conrad doesn’t connect with or like. Cal truly cares for Conrad and wants to see the boy return to a normal life, unaffected by past decisions. As the story progresses, Cal slowly begins to realize that the life Cal’s leading isn’t a happy one or a particularly fulfilling one. Conrad and Cal begin to grow closer and strengthen the bond between themselves, which in turn produces a stronger trust between the two. Cal worries less and less about Conrad’s comings and goings, which is demonstrated in the conversation the two have after Conrad’s brawl with a fellow classmate named Kevin Stillman. In the earlier parts of the novel Cal would have been digging at Conrad for every tiny detail about what happened, why it happened, if Conrad was okay, and if Conrad needed to see a psychiatrist. By this time in the book, however, Cal just makes sure Conrad isn’t hurt and says, “Maybe you won’t have to fight about it anymore, huh?” (Guest 189). Afterwards Cal reveals to Conrad that Cal had gotten into fights when Cal was in high school, followed by telling Conrad that there was nothing wrong with fighting and that Conrad “owed it to himself” (Guest 190). Conrad’s naturalistic tendencies are reasonably the most important in Ordinary People, as they are what drive the majority of the novel and what create most of the backstory necessary for the book to take place, not to mention what cause the introduction of an important character later in the story. After the suicide attempt, Conrad was forced to stay in the hospital for months until the doctors felt that Conrad was stable enough to be discharged. Conrad found it very hard to return to the extracurricular activities that Conrad previously enjoyed participating in, especially the swim team. During the first scene at the swimming pool in the book, negative thoughts such as “I didn’t really want to swim” (Guest 22) are running through Conrad’s head the entire time Conrad is practicing and talking with the coach. The coach, named Salan, then has a private meeting with Conrad, during which they discuss the type of treatment that Conrad received in the hospital. Coach Salan asks Conrad if they attempted electroshock therapy, and after Conrad confirms the rumor Coach Salans follows the question with “I’m no doctor, but I don’t think I’d let them mess around with my head like that” (Guest 22). The lack of empathy received from the coach and the other swimmers is ultimately what drives Conrad to quit the swim team. Being in the hospital and almost dying changes Conrad’s list of priorities in life, and Conrad returns to society with a very different perspective on life. Activities that used to mean the world to Conrad carry less value than what they did before, and old acquaintances that Conrad used to consider friends are now barely tolerable and, in some cases, downright impossible to be around. Joe Lazenby, the same boy who picks Conrad up for school, used to be best friends with Conrad and Buck. After Buck’s death, however, Conrad stays away from Lazenby. Lazenby eventually confronts Conrad after the fight with Stillman, and Conrad regretfully tells Lazenby “It hurts too much to be around you” (Guest 182), referring to the memories that Conrad still carries of the trio spending time together and how painful the loss of Buck truly is. Conrad has felt incredibly burdened and fragile from the moment Conrad wakes up in the hospital to the day of meeting Dr. Tyrone C. Berger, a psychiatrist so unorthodox and unique that Conrad actually feels comfortable and begins to recuperate from the traumatic suicide attempt. Dr. Berger is a psychiatrist unlike any other professional that Conrad has previously worked with. Berger’s office is extremely messy, but Conrad doesn’t even notice after the first visit because Dr. Berger is actually able to get through to Conrad and help the boy recover. Berger is the island in Conrad’s ocean of despair, the oasis in Conrad’s desert of self-blame. Berger always gets straight to the point in Conrad’s appointments, and Berger’s sense of humor helps Conrad relax in a normally stressful environment. Some of the first words that Dr. Berger speaks to Conrad are “Yeah. You look like somebody Crawford would send me. Somebody who’s a match for my daring wit and inquiring mind.” (Guest 38). The lack of tension in Berger’s personality and surrounding environment suites Conrad nicely, and Conrad truly feels able to open up to Berger. Conrad and Berger work on Conrad’s lack of motivation and poor performance in school, and by the end of the book Conrad is receiving fantastic grades and attempting to live life to the fullest. Berger also helps Conrad slowly accept Buck’s death and realize that the incident was an accident and that it isn’t anyone’s fault Buck couldn’t hold on. Berger even helps Conrad through a wave of horror, shock, and despair when a girl that was in the same hospital as Conrad, who Conrad met up with earlier in the story and thought had fully recovered, committed suicide without any warning. Dr. Berger becomes a second father-figure for Conrad and helps the boy through incidents and emotions that Conrad doesn’t feel comfortable telling Cal about. In the epilogue of Ordinary People, Conrad is strong enough to meet up with Joe Lazenby to apologize and make amends because of the sessions with Dr. Berger. Conrad isn’t the only Jarrett in the story that Dr. Berger helps; Cal eventually attends sessions with him as well. As the story progresses Cal is increasingly conflicted between supporting Beth or supporting Conrad, and most of the time supporting one means alienating the other. It gets to the point where Cal has absolutely no idea how to continue living in the same building with them without inadvertently creating more conflict. By this point in the novel, Cal has asked Conrad numerous times about Dr. Berger and notices that the psychiatrist is genuinely fostering improvement in the boy, so Cal decides to meet with Berger as well. Most of their discussions are about Cal’s relationship with Beth, and through gentle hinting and guiding from Berger, Cal realizes that the relationship with Beth is slowly falling apart and becoming volatile. After attending several sessions with Berger, Cal and Beth visit Beth’s sister and brother-in-law for a relaxed golfing trip in Dallas. During the trip Cal and Beth begin to spit verbal jabs at each other, which soon degrades to a full-blown, vehement argument about Conrad. Before Dr. Berger, Cal was very hesitant to confront Beth about Conrad’s thoughts and behavior, but Cal has become a different man. The pair’s incessant arguments after this trip eventually lead to Beth’s departure from the Jarrett house, which is the best thing that could happen to Conrad and Cal in this situation. Beth’s toxic nature made both of them uncomfortable in their own home, and only Dr. Berger was able to open a new doorway for Cal to help solve the issue. Buck’s death kicks off a chain of events and developments that eventually lead to the separation of the Jarrett family, and key elements like Beth’s unloving personality and Conrad’s fragility steer them down a path of ill-being for a time and forge the delicate family framework found in the beginning of Ordinary People. The emergence of Dr. Berger and the sessions that Conrad and Cal attend greatly impact their views on their lives and help them out of their individual pits of sorrow and despair. Conrad learns how to reconnect with old friends, excel in school, and eventually accept Buck’s death. Cal discovers that Beth has serious issues, and Cal’s sessions with Berger help Cal eventually confront Beth. Without the inclusion of naturalistic events or influential secondary characters, the main characters in Ordinary People would not have experienced the growth and development that they faced throughout the novel.