Ordinary People | Study Guide

Judith Guest

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Ordinary People | Chapters 9–10 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 9

Conrad has a surprise quiz in math, but he wills himself to stay calm and finishes it. When he offers to help his classmate Suzanne Mosely, she refuses although she is struggling with the class, and Stillman makes fun of him later for it.

That night Conrad dreams he is trapped in a tunnel that closes in on him. When he shares the dream with Dr. Berger, Dr. Berger asks him to lie on the floor for a "change of perspective." At that moment Conrad realizes he does not want to swim anymore. Dr. Berger then advises Conrad to lighten his schedule because he believes Conrad is doing too much and cannot sleep because he is overextended.

Chapter 10

As Conrad approaches the locker room, he overhears his swim team friends talking about him. When Stillman calls him a "flake," Lazenby and Van Buren defend Conrad. Disgusted by them, Conrad goes to Coach Salan and quits the team. Coach Salan warns Conrad that he will not take him back again, and Conrad says he will not ask him to.

While riding home with Lazenby and other swim team members, Conrad declines an invitation to go to the movies. When he gets home, he doesn't tell his father he quit the team because he is too tired to deal with the questions he knows will follow. Conrad thinks back to the time after the accident when he could not sleep, never able to tell his parents about his insomnia. He thinks, too, that this relentless lack of sleep caused his suicide attempt.

Analysis

Conrad's quitting the swim team is a significant moment for him: It indicates his willingness to change course and begin exploring the depths of his emotions. Sports are a significant part of the Jarrett family's life: Calvin and Beth play golf and tennis, and Conrad and Buck chose swimming. As Calvin says in Chapter 8, tennis is part of his "familiar and comforting pattern of triviality" and it protects "his soul from the sin of idleness." He believes that if he keeps busy, he will not have to think deep thoughts. If Conrad does not have swimming to keep him busy, he has more time to confront his reality and work through his problems. More time will help him deal with what he has to face rather than loom before him as a void to fill.

While discussing quitting the team with Dr. Berger, Conrad's main concern is "how stupid" it would look. Conrad has been brought up to care more about keeping up appearances than acting on his real desires. Because Dr. Berger realizes this problem, he asks, "Forget how it looks. How does it feel?" Here Guest is prioritizing real feelings over the illusion of perfection, a paradigm shift for Conrad. Dr. Berger ties together the themes of illusion versus reality and the search for identity when he asks, "You think you're the same person you were last year?" He means this new Conrad is ready to look beyond the patterns he grew up with and try something better.

One of these old patterns is the lack of communication in the Jarrett family. Guest illustrates the danger of this pattern in Chapter 10 when Conrad recalls his insomnia after Buck's death and his inability to ask his parents for help. Conrad "wasn't sleeping at all," and "his brain seethed from night until morning." But despite his dire condition, "he was never able to tell them." This mental anguish is what led to his suicide attempt, and he had once told Dr. Crawford "he had done it" because "he had to get some sleep." Once again, the themes are interwoven as Conrad is afraid of admitting weakness and imperfection though they defined who he was at that difficult time.

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