Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Down the hall from Conrad's room, Calvin (Conrad's father, called Cal for short) and Beth (his mother) are also starting their day. Beth urges to Cal to make sure their son doesn't "look like a bum" when he leaves for school. Cal, meanwhile, quietly muses about his good fortune. He feels especially blessed that his wife is so beautiful, but is also grateful for his job as a tax attorney and his family's comfortable living situation. His present luck is a far cry from his childhood days in the Evangelical Home for Orphans and Old People. Cal (who was named "for his dead uncle") only saw his mother rarely, and never met his father.
Cal and Beth's actions and behavior suggest a picture-perfect relationship – he's successful, she's beautiful, they love each other – but their conversation is cautious. In this scene, their ideal appearance is connected to a deep concern for the opinions of others (what "seem[s] courteous"). Cal's dramatic backstory is marked by luck and hard work; control is something he values highly.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Given his own lack of a father and family as a child, Cal worries about how to be a good father. But he believes that it involves a keen sense of responsibility: "looking for signs" of unhappiness in his son. He isn't sure if his son is truly happy, even though Conrad insists that he's fine. Cal notes to himself that Conrad hasn't spent much time with Lazenby, Truan, Genthe, or Van Buren – four boys who'd been Conrad's friends since they were all young kids. But Cal doesn't want to press his son too hard for answers.
Unlike Conrad, who responds easily to internal sensations, Cal is obsessed with noticing external details. They are his surest way of knowing how his son (and other people) feel inside, and they allow him to keep a courteous distance between himself and others. Unfortunately, he does not find superficial relationships very satisfying.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Being a good father, Cal believes, requires giving a healthy amount of distance. He feels that his best accomplishment as a father and husband, though, has been making enough money to give his family as nice a life as possible.
Cal's surest sense of control comes with the things that give him the appearance of success: being courteous, keeping his distance, and making money.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
All of the Jarretts gather in the kitchen for breakfast. Cal checks in with Conrad to see how things are going. With a healthy dose of sarcasm Conrad tells his dad that things are "fine," and adds that Lazenby will be giving him a ride to school. To Cal, Conrad seems just like "his old self"; yet, he worries that something is still amiss. Conrad hasn't put back on the weight he lost in the psychiatric hospital, and the breakfast conversation leaves Cal feeling a little uneasy. He reminds Conrad to "stick to the plan": that is, calling Dr. Berger, a psychologist in Evanston, to schedule a visit. Conrad insists that he has no time to see Dr. Berger because he has swim practice every evening, but Cal urges him to make the call when he has the time.
This is a scene where all of the Jarretts' coping mechanisms are on display. Cal wants lots of information about Conrad; Conrad uses sarcasm and makes excuses to try to get out of his appointment; Beth ignores the conversation. None of them are willing to fully address the amount of help Conrad still needs, but politeness keeps things from getting too messy.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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