Ordinary People


Conrad Jarrett

Conrad is one of the main characters of the novel. An 18-year-old high school junior, Conrad has faced a significant amount of turmoil in the past few years. He was in a boating accident with his older brother, Buck, in which his brother drowned. Both Buck and Conrad were accomplished swimmers who excelled in the swim team, and Conrad seems to experience a tremendous amount of guilt and self-blame over his brother’s death. Prior to the beginning of the novel, these feelings help drive Conrad to a suicide attempt. He slashes his wrists. Conrad does not die and is instead hospitalized for a period of eight months. The novel opens a month after Conrad’s release from the hospital and chronicles Conrad’s struggles to reclaim some normalcy in his life.

The novel makes it clear that Conrad grew up in the shadow of his older brother, Buck. Though Buck is not actually a character driving any of the current action of the novel, his influence appears strongly throughout the novel. He and Conrad had a wonderful sibling relationship, and there is every indication that Buck was well-liked by most people. Separated by only a year, the brothers were close, but it does not seem as if they were able to develop separate identities. Instead, much of Conrad’s identity seems to have been linked to Buck’s, so that Buck’s death leaves Conrad not only grieving the loss of his brother, but also unsure about his own role and position in life.

One of Conrad’s biggest problems is that he feels isolated and alone. Part of this loneliness is due to the death of his brother, and part of it seems to be part of his depression. It does not help him that his family is falling apart after his brother’s death. His mother, Beth, steadfastly refuses to deal with the emotions surrounding Buck’s death. Moreover, she is angry and somewhat hostile that Conrad and his father Calvin cannot simply move past Buck’s death. This makes her very distant from Conrad, who is unable to rely upon his mother for any comfort or nurturing. He also suspects that...

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Essays About Ordinary People