Ordinary People


Points To Ponder

What is the significance of punishment in the novel?

Throughout the novel, both Conrad and Calvin ponder the nature of punishment. In many ways, Conrad’s suicide attempt was a way of punishing himself for failing to rescue his brother in the boating accident. Moreover, Beth’s emotional distance from Conrad is a way of punishing him for his suicide attempt, and perhaps for his failure to rescue Buck, though Beth never acknowledges that motivation. Calvin’s obsessive questioning and desire to assign blame for the accident and for Conrad’s suicide attempt are also ways of punishing himself. What is interesting is that the novel suggests that punishment is futile. Dr. Berger points out to Conrad that his attempt to punish himself through his suicide attempt did nothing to make him feel better about Buck’s death.

What role do women play in Ordinary People?

In many ways, Ordinary People is a very male-driven novel. Conrad, Calvin, Buck, and Dr. Berger are all males, and the majority of the novel explores the dynamic in these male relationships. However, Beth also plays a critical role in the novel. Moreover, of the two parents, she is certainly the less positive one. In many ways, by failing to live up to the image of a good mother, Beth is a failure as a woman. She is contrasted with other characters, such as Carole Lazenby, who are open about missing seeing Buck and Conrad together. However, as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that Beth is not cold or heartless; instead, she is suffering a significant heartbreak and is trying very hard to keep things together without falling apart. The fact that Conrad is able to develop a positive romantic relationship with Jeannine Pratt makes it clear that the novel is not demonizing women.

Why are the problems in Beth and Calvin’s relationship irreconcilable?

On the surface, Beth and Calvin appear to have a good relationship. Moreover, even as their relationship is strained, they engage...

Sign up to continue reading Points To Ponder >

Essays About Ordinary People