Literature Study GuidesOrdinary PeopleChapter 31 And Epilogue Summary

Ordinary People | Study Guide

Judith Guest

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Ordinary People | Chapter 31 and Epilogue | Summary



Chapter 31

Beth packs her things to leave Calvin and Conrad. She claims she is leaving because she can't stand the way Calvin looks at her. Nor does she think she has any need for counseling, for she is the one who has remained the same whereas Calvin has not. They argue every night, and during the day she throws herself into organizing the tennis tournament, their friends still marveling at her "perfection." When he asks her one night if she loves him, she responds, "I feel the same way about you that I have always felt. You are the one who has changed."

Beth lets Calvin explain the situation to Conrad, and Calvin reveals they are selling the house and Beth is "going away for a while." Calvin plans to rent a house for the pair in Evanston. Conrad doesn't understand why his mother would go by herself, but Calvin denies something has happened because nothing definite has. They have not discussed divorce. He reveals Beth already left, and Conrad jokes he could not tell him directly before checking around for razor blades. Calvin forbids him from making such morbid jokes.

After talking more about the situation, Conrad tells his father he loves him. Calvin's eyes fill with tears as he tells his son he loves him, too. Conrad asks if his mother is coming back "at all." Calvin says, "of course," although he is not certain of it. Conrad says "she'd better" because he is "a lousy cook."


After his last session with Dr. Berger, Conrad comes back to see his old house. It has not changed the way he expected it to. He goes to the Lazenbys' house where Joe is practicing his golf swing. Conrad gives him advice, adding he would like to play golf with him again. Joe asks permission to go immediately. His mother Carole agrees but only if Conrad comes in to talk first. Conrad muses this is how mothers are. He decides he will go visit his own mother when she comes back from Europe.


Guest resolves the story with a semi-open ending and epilogue. Beth is fleeing the family, at least for now. Calvin and Beth are finally talking, but "it all falls between them." No bridges of communication are formed to help them understand each other. Beth suggests this is because he thinks of her as "an emotional cripple." She freezes him out because she does not want him to worry about her like he worries about Conrad. Beth would be happy returning to their status quo of living a life of illusion, but when Calvin suggests counseling for them both, she knows he is no longer satisfied living that way. He wants to embrace reality, but she is not ready to do so and may never be. Still, they do not bring up divorce, which would irrevocably destroy her illusions, and she could not have that. Calvin, too, does not yet want to think about her never coming back.

As Calvin and Beth's relationship deteriorates over the course of the novel, Calvin and Conrad's relationship improves. They openly communicate and tell each other "I love you." Calvin admits he never worried enough about Conrad growing up because he was the "good kid" and "the easy one to raise." But he knows now this had been part of the illusion, and the reality is that he should have been listening.

The epilogue reveals Beth has kept a box full of things Conrad made for her, and he muses about whether "you save stuff like that if it means nothing to you." He realizes she shows her love in different ways, and he needs to accept that her ways are not his or other people's. He has spent too much time trying to hurt her for the hurt she caused him. His visit to Joe Lazenby's is symbolic of his healing from Buck's death. If he can hang out with Joe again, then it is no longer hurting him to remember his brother.

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