Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Conrad goes for a drive later that night. His slow driving angers a nearby driver, who passes him with a raised middle finger. Soon the sight of angered drivers and religious billboards get him thinking about the difficulty of communication: how to know what someone means when they say something? To him it seems hard to communicate without being too forceful or demanding. The problem eventually confuses him, so he gives up on it and heads home.
The sight of crosses and religious slogans strikes Conrad as too heavy-handed. He realizes that communication requires give and take, but he doesn't know how that might work in actual conversation.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal comes home around midnight. He sees Conrad on the couch; he'd presumably fallen asleep while waiting for him. Cal nudges his son awake, and Conrad explains that he needs to talk to him about something. Worry sets in as Conrad tells him about the fight with Stillman at school, but talking through the problem helps Cal feel better. He's able to comfort his son, assuring him that fights between friends are nothing new. He also believes that Conrad "owed himself" an opportunity to release his pent-up anger. (Crawford's words come to mind; his son's suicide attempt was spurred by unreleased rage.) He asks Conrad what the fight was about, but Conrad casually explains that Stillman has "no sense of humor."
Cal and Conrad manage to have a fairly open conversation, though Conrad is still pretty emotionally guarded. He believes that one way to avoid the forcefulness he recognizes above by blaming himself for the fight. However, Cal reaches out to him by recognizing his need to vent every once in a while. The trust and vulnerability they need is in sight, and they slowly begin to grasp for it.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal hears the sound of Beth's breathing as he prepares for bed. In the moment he realizes that he hadn't seen her stop by the living room on her way upstairs, nor had Conrad. He is disturbed by the fact that Beth wouldn't stop to check on Conrad when she came home.
Now Cal turns his "noticing" energies toward Beth. His doubt about her perfection begins to grow.
Themes
"Family" and Love Theme Icon