Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For Conrad, the start of a new year brings the realization that he needs to organize his life. He runs through his concerns one by one: he resolves to work hard when it comes to schoolwork and exercise; he resolves to find new friends and a job (but isn't sure how to do either). After "guitar" and "books," though, comes "girls"; Karen, Suzanne, and Jeannine all come to mind, but for the moment Conrad decides to focus on himself. He suddenly remembers, though, how Buck used to tease him about the many lists he'd made, and he wonders whether the newest one is a sign of progress or regression.
A romantic relationship is one arena in which Conrad's desire for human contact is most recognizable. Resolving to find a girlfriend (and become a better guitar player) is a step toward greater openness, feeling, and trust. Yet Conrad wonders if this plan will prove as ineffective as the other ways in which he's tried to control his life.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad visits the library to ask about employment opportunities. While there, he encounters a beautiful woman in the stacks at the library. Embarrassment prods him to escape her gaze. He moves throughout the library, but the strange woman continues to watch and follow him. Eventually he makes it out to the parking lot – and by surprise he encounters her again, noticing her blue skirt and blue car. Nonchalantly, she apologizes for embarrassing him, flirtatiously complements his good looks, and drives away.
The narration builds an intense connection between Conrad's physical and social awareness. Anxiety permeates the entire encounter, as represented by the prominence of the color blue. But being watched, followed, and complimented on his looks make Conrad aware of his worth to himself and others.
Themes
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad fills Berger in on his encounter with the woman at the library. In spite of Berger's gentle teasing, he admits that the exchange boosted his confidence. He also notes that it contributed to the streak of contentment he's maintained in the days after Christmas, however fragile it seems. But something more important worries Conrad: cautiously, Conrad explains that he has suddenly become obsessed with women's bodies. He notices and thinks about them constantly, and masturbates just as frequently.
Conrad's problem with women is the opposite of his problem with his family: he believes he is too eager to connect with women, that he has too little control of his urges. Berger encourages this feeling, though. As he tells Conrad, it's a sign that he's "waking up."
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Berger casually advises Conrad to begin a relationship with Jeannine. Conrad is wary of dating, but the doctor assures him that the process is easy, "just like skiing." The advice softens him a bit, and to his own surprise Conrad confesses his admiration for Berger; he admits that he considers the doctor a friend. Jokingly, Berger returns the compliment.
Conrad's emotional growth is not purely romantic. For the first time we see Conrad affirm someone as his friend. The confession suggests that he's still relatively closed off from the rest of the world, but it's still a step forward.
Themes
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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