Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It's been exactly one month since Conrad Jarrett has returned home from the psychiatric hospital in which he's spent the past eight months. On the morning of September 30th, he lays awake in bed burdened with fear and anxiety. He tries to motivate himself to get out of bed and start his day, but is thwarted when he remembers the load of assignments he has to complete in the coming week. Even the thought of deciding what to wear and how to prepare for the day prove too much for him to tackle.
Though he's left the hospital, Conrad has not yet overcome his mental disorder. The struggle to control himself – even in something as simple as getting out of bed – is one he tries to overcome in order to get well.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Soon his thoughts are crowded out by memories of the hospital—the advice of his doctor, Crawford, to lighten up and nurture his sense of humor; the recreational activities he and other patients would do as part of their morning routine; the look of failure that marked many of his fellow residents.
Conrad often lapses into flashbacks. How he decides to act in the present is heavily influenced by ideas and voices from the past, which are woven seamlessly into the dialogue and narration.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Conrad hears the voice of his father, Calvin, calling to him from the other end of the hall. Conrad is jolted out of his funk and begins following his routine to prepare for the day. In the bathroom, he notices that a recurrent rash has begun breaking out on his face again. (Strangely, his doctors are unable to determine what triggers it.)
Keeping busy is another of Conrad's coping strategies, but it doesn't ease his anxiety or put him in control of his present. Despite his effort, the mysterious rash is something completely out of his control.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad tries to make himself relax, remembering that he is supposed to be on the road to regaining a healthy, "normal" life. But the mysterious rash, as well as a brief moment in which he forgets the name of his next door neighbors, stirs up his fear and anxiety all over again. As he dresses, Conrad realizes that his worry stems from the unease caused by asking questions that aren't easily answered.
Conrad's acute perceptiveness often overpowers his thinking. What he sees and feels becomes increasingly hard to make out.
Themes
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
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Conrad begins to shut down again. His throat begins to itch. For a moment he is tempted to abandon his routine, but he soon reminds himself that keeping busy will help him avoid dread. For now, he clings to "routine" and "guiding principles" in order to make it through his day.
As the chapter closes, Conrad beats back his physical unrest with plans and motivational slogans. For the moment, he's overcome his anxiety.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon