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Ordinary People | Study Guide

Judith Guest

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Ordinary People | Chapters 25–26 | Summary



Chapter 25

Calvin does well on his first day of the golf tournament in Texas. Audrey asks Calvin about Conrad, and they end up discussing Beth. Audrey tells him Beth insists everything is fine and makes her feel as though questions about Conrad are "off limits." Audrey knows "you have to be careful with Beth" because "emotion is her enemy."

Beth and Ward join them after returning from horseback riding. Ward asks about Conrad, but Beth seems distanced from the conversation. Calvin reports that Conrad is seeing a psychiatrist. Ward invites Calvin to ride horses the next day, but Calvin declines because of the tournament. Ward tells him he better do well, "or we'll send you back east by yourself."

Chapter 26

Conrad spends the day at his grandparents washing his car. After dinner he and his grandfather sit at the table while his grandfather reads the Sports section of the newspaper. Leafing through the rest of the paper while he waits, he notices an article. It is about Karen: she has committed suicide. Feeling himself in crisis, he excuses himself to go upstairs. He tries to sleep, but bad memories plague him, including the memory of his own suicide attempt. He goes outside for a late night walk to clear his head, and a police officer asks him why he is out so late. The officer tells him to get home because there are "too many nuts in the world these days." Conrad returns to his grandparents' house, and his thoughts flash back to the sailing accident: The wind knocked them out of the boat, and Buck couldn't hang on. In the morning he calls Dr. Berger for an emergency session.


These chapters reveal much about the root of Conrad's and Calvin's problems, with Chapter 26 being the climatic crisis of Conrad's story. Karen's suicide shatters Conrad's mind in such a way that he vividly relives both his own suicide attempt and the fateful day of his sailing accident with Buck. The day started off well, with Conrad musing "there are no secret passages to strength, no magic words." He realizes he can be strong by being true to himself. "He is strong, he is able, because he is." Karen did not have this truth, and though she had the outward appearance of doing well, she never healed inside. She wanted to project the illusion to her father and everyone else, to hide the reality of her emotional wounds. Because he has worked with Dr. Berger about healing, Conrad, on the other hand, is able to stay strong enough after his painful flashbacks to call for help. Karen's attitude is, in fact, similar to Beth's in not wanting to face and accept reality, assuming an illusion of stability is the reality of it.

Meanwhile, Calvin can feel Beth slipping away from him in her "polite indifference" and recalls her behavior on the plane. She didn't want to discuss summer plans or her talk with Nancy. Instead she said communicating with him is "hopeless," and she just wants to "have fun for a change." Audrey credits Beth's trouble with communicating to her need "for everything to go smoothly," that is, her reliance on pretending everything is fine. "Emotion is her enemy" because emotion would reveal the reality beneath the illusion. Calvin realizes that "he never knows how to read her," and "she offers him no clues." Because she will not engage in real communication with him, he has to guess what she is thinking and what she needs, and he is usually wrong. Beth tells him he is too "sincere" and also too "pushy." By "sincere" she means he relies too much for her liking on the reality of his feelings, and she wants him to stop pushing her to access her own emotions. Ward correctly perceives Beth and Calvin are not right for each other. His comment about Calvin's success in the tournament "or we'll send you back east by yourself," is a foreshadowing of his and Beth's impending separation.

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