Ordinary People


Beth Jarrett

Beth Jarrett is Conrad’s mother. Beth is one of the more complicated characters in the novel. In many ways, her behavior is reprehensible. Her grief-stricken son attempts suicide, and the reader discovers that Beth’s response was to encourage her husband to vacation out of the country while Conrad was in the mental hospital. It is this type of behavior that makes it very difficult for the reader to empathize with Beth.

However, Beth is a far more complex character than she appears at first blush. Rather than the cold woman who has easily moved past the death of her oldest son and the suicide attempt of her youngest, glimpses of Beth throughout the novel reveal a woman who is trying desperately to hold it together. She does not ignore the events of the past because they have no meaning for her, but because they are tremendously meaningful. Her anger at Conrad over his suicide attempt has nothing to do with the fact that his blood ruined the rug and everything to do with the fact that she felt incapacitating grief over the thought that she might lose a second child. She cannot forgive him for trying to hurt himself because of what that did to her—what losing him would have done to her. Moreover, because she is not convinced that he is safe for himself, and losing Buck has shown her that you cannot prevent the loss of a child, she feels like she must put distance between them.

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Essays About Ordinary People