Ordinary People | Study Guide

Judith Guest

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Ordinary People | Chapters 19–20 | Summary



Chapter 19

At work Ray tells Calvin he's not acting like himself and not to worry so much about Conrad, who soon will be an adult and out of the house. This is what kids do: they grow up, and they leave, and "all that worrying doesn't amount to a hill of crap."

He also reveals that Beth talked to Nancy, and that Beth is upset because Calvin is "obsessed with Con's problems." Calvin then tells Ray that Beth is exactly the opposite: "She can't think about them at all." Ray tells him to forget he said anything and adds that life is merely full of meaningless actions anyway. Calvin disagrees. Some actions "are so far from meaningless as to be beyond reason, maybe beyond forgiveness."

Chapter 20

Conrad shows up at Jeannine's for his date. Jeannine's mother and brother Mike make it clear Jeannine has lots of dates. Mike tells him he looks like a recent date, but he cannot remember his name because "there's too many." Conrad takes Jeannine bowling. She is not good at it but learns quickly. Afterwards they go to McDonald's. She teases him about taking so long to ask her out, and in the car he asks her out again. He kisses her, marveling how nice it is.


For the first time Calvin has proof his marriage is in trouble. It's not like Beth to confide in anyone, and she has now in Nancy. Calvin muses, "She has never given so much of herself away." He wonders how they could have become "so far apart so fast." The implication is their distance is caused by lack of communication. Because they cannot talk about losing Buck, Calvin overcompensates by focusing all his concern on Conrad. Beth resents what she considers Calvin's "obsession" because she feels her needs are being neglected. One of those needs is to believe everything is back to normal, and she cannot do that if Calvin will not stop worrying.

While Calvin's relationship is in decline, Conrad's relationship with Jeannine is starting to heat up. Even though she apparently goes out with a variety of guys and warns him Geminis such as her can be unpredictable, Conrad feels comfortable with her. When he kisses her, he thinks back to what Dr. Berger once told him: "the body doesn't lie." They feel right together. On their date Jeannine wears the same blue skirt she wore the first day he saw her on the street from the window of Joe Lazenby's car. The blue color is significant because his feelings about blue chart the progress of his emotional health. At this point it is clear Conrad is well on his way to recovery, and it is partly a result of the compassionate communication he experiences with both Dr. Berger and Jeannine.

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