Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cal and Ray have worked late into the night to catch up with work. Productivity has lagged since Cherry left – Ray fired her, and the new secretary doesn't show much promise. After Cal and Ray wrap up for the day they head to a nearby lunch counter for something to eat. Talk of work gives way to Ray's concern for Cal; he's noticed that something seems to be bothering his friend. Cal insists that he's fine, and that he plans to compete in an upcoming lawyers' golf tournament in Dallas. Beth is going with him, and they will stay with her brother and his wife nearby. He wonders if his break would leave Ray with too much work, but Ray urges him to go, and not to worry.
Cal continues to wrestle with his feelings of purposelessness. He isn't able to tell how much his presence is needed at work, or how much to rely on Ray's friendship. To complicate matters, visiting Dallas would put the orphaned Cal right in the middle of Beth's family—which is obviously much bigger than Cal's by comparison.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Ray searches for the root of Cal's disappointment. He tries to console Cal, explaining that Conrad will be off to college in less than a year's time. Cal gets a little defensive; he feels Ray's advice is unsolicited. He swears once again that he isn't worried about Conrad, or Beth for that matter. Ray reveals that his wife Nancy and Beth met each other for coffee last week, and that Beth confessed that she felt Cal was too worried about Conrad. Cal doesn't take the revelation well; he hadn't known how Beth felt.
Similarities between Cal and Conrad begin to emerge once again. This time, Cal shares his son's habit of rejecting the help of others. Cal's need for control will not allow him to take Ray's help.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Ray tries to ease Cal's burden, offering him the idea that life is nothing more than a series of "more-or-less meaningless actions." Cal rejects the idea vigorously; when Ray asks him what he believes instead, Cal answers jokingly that he believes "[he'll] go to Dallas" to play golf. As the conversation subsides both men mull over the loss that has filled their lives: Ray remembers watching his daughter leave home and having his marriage falter, while Cal thinks about the small warning signs that cropped up in the days leading up to Conrad's suicide attempt. Cal concludes that Beth might be right about his lack of focus, but he refuses to believe that life is as meaningless as Ray would have him believe.
Cal doesn't realize how much opening up to Ray would help him. Because the two of them have much more in common than he realizes, Cal could easily turn to his friend to for understanding. In fact, Ray's advice will become more valuable than either he or Cal realize; though it's stated harshly, Cal will come to embrace the idea that he can't control fate.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon