Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cherry is devastated after breaking up with her boyfriend. Ray is annoyed, but Cal feels for her. The normally perky secretary's emotional breakdown catches him off guard, and soon he begins to feel self-conscious; he worries that his sympathy is too obvious. A bit of Arnold Bacon's old advice comes to his mind: "The things which hurt instruct." Cal can't quite bring himself to agree.
Cal's fatherly instincts flare up yet again. His problem is the opposite of Conrad's; his overwhelming concern for others (as opposed to Conrad's overwhelming fear for his own well-being) is his biggest weakness. Bacon's shrewdness stays with him, but is directly opposed to what he personally feels.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
At lunchtime Cal runs into Carole Lazenby. Not having seen each other in a while, they go to lunch together to catch up. They discuss their sons, and how much less time they spend together than before. Carole also mentions her admiration for Beth's constant composure. Carole fears she's becoming less and less composed as she moves into middle age.
The Jarretts'—and particularly Beth's—appearance of perfection outweighs the suffering they have experienced (and continue to endure).
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
After lunch Cal considers Carole's remarks about Beth, comparing her seeming composure to what he remembers of the years when Conrad and Buck were both small boys. The demand of raising two children, combined with her desire to keep a perfect house, put Beth under an intense amount of pressure, often driving her to tears or seething anger. In those days, Cal soon realized that the smallest messes "drove her to the point of madness." Yet despite his appreciation for Beth's cleanliness and attention to detail, he realized that her efforts were unable to prevent bad things (like Buck's death, or Conrad's suicide attempt) from making their mark on the family.
Carole's thoughts about Beth are invalidated in two ways. Not only do the Jarretts suffer their own misfortunes, but those mishaps put everyone, even Beth, under intense pressure. We learn that Beth's deep desire for control is only a means of compensating for a lack of emotional control. Such a loss can affect her deeply.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal and Beth chat about their day later that evening. Cal reminds Beth about a car they'd been looking at recently; they plan to buy it for Conrad as a Christmas gift. He asks Beth if she'd like to visit the dealership to look at it with him, but she insists on leaving the decision-making process to Cal. The ease of the decision, and of their conversation, soothes Cal – but after a moment he wonders if their relationship is really as easy as it seems.
There's more to Beth's refusal to visit the dealership than meets the eye. She'd rather have as little to do with Conrad as possible, so she avoids having a hand in any choice that might affect him emotionally.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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Cal recalls a conversation he'd had with Ray's wife Nancy at a party seven years before. She'd mentioned that she was jealous of Beth, and how she was "lucky…never to have been disillusioned" with marriage. Cal was upset by Nancy's confession, as he'd tried to stay out of the conflict between her and her husband Ray (who was having an affair with Lynn Searles, then secretary at the firm). Despite their troubles, and despite a temporary break-up, Nancy and Ray reunited and moved into a large house in the suburbs. Knowing the truth about the Hanleys' marriage and seeing its outcome urged Cal to be suspicious about happy relationships. The thought stays with him as Conrad comes home from school. The family make small talk and prepare for dinner.
In this flashback, Cal begins to sense one of his family's biggest issues: they might be tempted to confuse the appearance of healthy relationships for their actual existence. Thanks to his experience with Ray and Nancy, he knows that an attractive outer shell can easily conceal a host of problems.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon