Ordinary People | Study Guide

Judith Guest

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Ordinary People | Chapters 29–30 | Summary



Chapter 29

On the plane home, Beth sits "untouchable beside him." Calvin leaves her alone, realizing he is "not in control, so let go." He no longer knows what to expect from her. At dinner out, she is "the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect hostess." When they get home, they engage in various tasks alone. Conrad comes up to her and "puts an arm around her in a quick, clumsy embrace." If this has any affect on her, she does not show it.

Chapter 30

At Jeannine's house Conrad picks out chords on the guitar and plays a song he composed. Jeannine praises it as "pleasant, orderly and neat." He objects because he wants his music to be "rapturous" and "passionate." Jeannine reveals she asked his friends about him because she wanted to get to know this "mysterious figure." Conrad is flattered. As their friendly chat turns into passion, they let their bodies take the lead and make love. Afterwards Jeannine opens up to him about how she was a "bad girl" after her parents' divorce. She admits she is ashamed, but Conrad does not judge her. Instead he feels at peace.


These chapters comprise the falling action after the climax. Calvin is perplexed by his situation with Beth. He feels her distance, and yet she plays all her parts to perfection. The scene at dinner could fool him into thinking everything is fine, but she has declared she does not need him. And when Conrad teases him about being "the indispensable man," another of Calvin's illusions about his identity "hits the dirt." He used to feel necessary but now realizes he just co-exists with everyone else. When Conrad clumsily tries to connect with Beth, Calvin observes how cold she is—how cold she always has been. As she retreats into herself, "her face is hidden from Cal, also." She is closed to him, a portrait of cool perfection.

In contrast, Jeannine and Conrad are not afraid to relax and reveal their messy realities to each other. Not only is Conrad no longer concerned with the perfection of things that are "pleasant and orderly and neat," he vehemently describes these as "horrible adjectives." Indicative of how much he has changed, he now prefers words like rapturous and passionate. These words describe how he feels with Jeannine. After they share their "shameful" secrets, accept each other as they are, and make love, Conrad's body and mind are at peace. And finally, after a long journey toward wellness, "he is in touch for good, with hope, with himself, no matter what."

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