Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It's the first day of exam week for Conrad. In the first moments of his English exam, Conrad notices a handful of details as he glances around the classroom: his peers hard at work, the blue shadows of trees on the snow outside, his teacher passing through the aisles of the classroom. The last is the hardest for him to deal with. He finds it difficult to write essays about free will and fate when he's ogling his teacher lustfully as she wanders around the room.
As suggested by the essay questions on his exam, Guest conceives of Conrad as one of many literary figures who struggle with fate and inner turmoil. Perhaps Conrad's assigned reading may have helped him deal with the anxiety and isolation he feels on a daily basis, but his feelings are much stronger than anything he could say about the books.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
After the exam, Conrad and Jeannine spot one another in the hallway. He is unsure how to approach her; he hasn't spoken to her since Christmas vacation began, and worries that he'll make a misstep. She passes as he rummages through his locker, then after composing himself he runs to catch up with her outside the school. Playing down his nervousness, he coolly offers her a ride home, which she accepts.
Asking Jeannine out is a bold step for Conrad. He feels that the task is "harder than any exam," but it brings him one step closer to the contact and relationships he wants and needs. His decision to play it cool in front of Jeannine shows that he isn't yet willing to relinquish control of himself.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Conrad and Jeannine listen to the radio in silence during the ride. They eventually reach her house, and with a twinge of embarrassment Jeannine says that she can't invite Conrad inside, beginning to explain something about her mother. However, she quickly interrupts herself to apologize for calling Conrad "lucky" to be an only child during their last conversation. Conrad is also embarrassed; Jeannine suggests that she also knows about his suicide, which makes him regret his failure to let her know before she learned about it from anywhere else. The two part awkwardly, and on the way home Conrad tries to convince himself that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
Listening to the radio together puts Conrad and Jeannine on the same page. Though Conrad is put in an awkward spot by Jeannine's questions, the moment forces him to be more open and vulnerable than he has been in the past.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Several neighborhood women have gathered at the Jarretts' for their bridge club meeting. Conrad slips into the house trying to avoid the group, but Carole Lazenby greets him warmly and introduces him to the rest of the women. Beth sits by but is mostly quiet. As he moves toward his room, Mrs. Lazenby urges Conrad to stop by her house for a visit; she's noticed how little time she and her son have spent together recently. Conrad makes a half-hearted promise and hurries upstairs.
Politeness prevents any of the characters in this scene from sharing their true feelings with one another (with the possible exception of Carole). The distance between Conrad, Beth, and the others is directly opposed to the awkward openness of the previous scene.
Themes
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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Alone, Conrad considers Mrs. Lazenby's offer. He eventually concludes that too many distractions have come between him and Lazenby, and that a visit wouldn't be worth the trouble. He does, however, decide to call Jeannine on the spur of the moment – but not before calling Karen, whose number he spots on a notepad near the phone. Her mother picks up the phone, but is extremely wary of Conrad and speaks to him harshly. For a moment he scolds himself, feeling that someone so obsessed with women deserves to be treated poorly. After a while, though, he snaps out of his funk and decides to call Jeannine. He asks her out on a date – and to his surprise and relief, she accepts.
Conrad is caught between the pain of old relationships and the healing potential of new ones. The thought of seeing Lazenby and Jeannine in the hallways at school is not satisfying to Conrad. His phone call to Jeannine is awkward, but the value of one-on-one encounters is made real to him once again.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon