Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cal tells Beth about the golf tournament. Since they were unable to travel to Europe for Christmas, he feels that the trip to Dallas is the least he can do for her – especially since she would be able to see her brother Ward and his wife Audrey. Beth accepts Cal's offer. That done, Cal strolls into the family room and puts on a record of Ralph Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony. It reminds him of all of the places he and Beth have traveled, including the small monastery where they stayed while Conrad was still in the hospital. It gave him the feeling of comfort and safety. At last, Cal can complete the phrase for himself: "I'm the kind of man who believes in safety."
Arranging a trip that Beth will appreciate gives Cal a momentary sense of worth. His satisfaction is increased by the music he listens to. Cal believes he's found a fulfilling way to provide for someone he loves—and without a huge amount of risk. In this moment, Cal's sense of purpose comes easily to him.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Thoughts of Arnold Bacon cut in. Unlike Cal, the feeling of safety didn't restrain Bacon from making painful choices, including "withdraw[ing] friendship" and cutting ties after Cal decided to marry. Bacon firmly believed that Beth was "not a sharer"; he claimed that she would demand too much of Cal's attention. But Beth felt the same way about Bacon, admonishing Cal that his mentor was too eager to burden Cal with his own wants and needs. Having to choose between Beth and Bacon was a difficult process for him, one which hurt him deeply.
Cal is no stranger to having to choose between the people he loves (remember his conversation with Berger in Chapter 17). Unfortunately for him, his being an orphan converges with his indecisiveness at points like these. Finding a place in a family always requires him to put the needs of one member above another—which is one of the reasons he associates family with grief.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
The intense memories bring Cal to the verge of tears (a common occurrence since visiting Dr. Berger). He remembered Beth's assertion that Bacon was only interested in Cal as long as Call needed him around; when he didn't, Bacon cut him loose. He considers the idea that "[p]eople only use people according to their own needs." Remembering his personal need for safety, he then recalls an opportunity he had to cheat on Beth. He'd told Beth about the encounter afterward (what with Ray and Nancy's recent affair); she tells Cal that the embarrassment of an affair would have driven her away for good. For a moment he thinks he's discovered the key to Beth's mysterious personality – an inability to forgive – but the answer seems too simple and he dismisses it.
Though Berger never says the phrase to him, his belief that "the body never lies" begins to have meaning for Cal as well. For once, he begins to feel something other than anxiety. But he also gets a glimpse into Beth's inner being. Her physical and emotional perfection (and seeming perfection) may stem from an unwillingness to compromise herself. Cal isn't willing to trust Berger's advice just yet, though.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon