Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 28 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ward, Audrey, Beth, and Cal spend the evening outdoors, watching Charlie and Kerry swim in the backyard pool. Cal has just finished the golf tournament in third place. Everyone congratulates him, but he gently rejects their praise (secretly, he wishes he'd won). Ward suggests that the group go out to dinner to celebrate, and he and Audrey head into the house to prepare for their night out.
The Butlers' home continues to mirror the Jarretts' life before the accident. Charlie and Kerry's swimming evokes the memory of Conrad and Buck on Lake Michigan—a memory that starts to assert its lingering presence in Cal and Beth's relationship.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal and Beth have a pleasant exchange about the tournament. Beth even suggests that she and Cal play together more; she suggests a golf vacation for the coming summer. Cal agrees – and adds that Conrad might like the idea as well. The last comment annoys Beth, who points out Cal's habit of mentioning "him" (she never refers to Conrad by name) when they make plans. After a while Ward returns to the backyard to announce that the night's dinner plans are set.
The habit of easy conversation grinds to a halt. Beth's unwillingness to discuss Conrad openly may have gone unnoticed in the past, but it is foregrounded in this scene—she has to make a concerted effort to avoid using her son's name.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
In the Butlers' living room, they and the Jarretts have had a few more rounds of drinks before dinner, during which Cal has allowed himself to get drunk. He and Beth are no longer sitting by one another; their earlier disagreement has grown into a grudge. Soon Ward and Audrey wander into the garage in search of more alcohol. Silence lingers between Beth and Cal, but Cal provokes her into continuing the argument they'd started hours before. Beth finally voices her annoyance with talking about Conrad so frequently – again, she doesn't call him by name. Cal notes that they rarely actually talk about Conrad. He thinks that another, deeper problem persists between them.
Whether consciously or subconsciously, Cal realizes that his thoughts and his feelings are connected. Because he wants to confront his wife, he makes a choice to loosen his grip on his feelings by drinking too much.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Beth rails against Cal's moping. She blames him for wanting to dampen her mood. Cal doesn't understand why Beth is so angry at him, but she states her belief that Cal blames her for Conrad's suicide attempts. The admission shakes her; she bursts into tears. Cal goes over to his wife and tries to comfort her, but she rejects his "false sympathy." She insists that she doesn't need his help. She can help herself.
Beth finally voices her resentment of Conrad's suicide attempt. The admission lets Cal (and us) realize that Beth has not dealt with her family's difficulties because she has refused to feel. She harbors a lot of intense feelings, but she actually makes an effort to keep them in check.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
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Ward and Audrey stand by the living room door, not wanting to intrude on the situation, but Beth addresses them. She saw Conrad's attempted suicide as an attempt to manipulate her emotions; it seemed like an elaborate accusation against her. Though Cal tries to persuade Beth that her view of the situation is too selfish, she believes that her perspective is completely honest, however horrible it seems. She adds that she doesn't hate Conrad, as Cal believes. As she puts it, "Mothers don't hate their sons!" She is offended by the idea that Conrad would think she hates him. She also feels that Cal understands Conrad's needs far more than he understands her own.
Despite her desire for restraint, Beth vents her feelings about Conrad. She isn't as self-contained as Cal thought; she is aware of her role as a mother, and she wants to fill that role as best she can. But she isn't willing to experience the vulnerability needed to sustain a loving relationship.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Ward tries to soothe his sister. He expresses the desire for her, Cal, and Conrad to be happy. The word triggers her; she lashes out at Ward, sarcastically urging him to obsess over his sons' safety. Cal, meanwhile, silently recalls three distinct moments: knocking on his locked bathroom door, begging Conrad to let him in; seeing Conrad lying motionless in bed at the hospital; Conrad standing on the dock shortly after Buck's drowning, apologizing to his parents over and over again. He realizes that Conrad's attempted suicide has changed Beth, but he isn't sure how.
Beth's bitter remarks to Ward call attention to the symbolic role his house has played in her relationship with Cal: Charlie and Kerry are as likely to drown as Buck was. Cal realizes that Beth's unwillingness to forgive Conrad is not a "default" decision on her part. Conrad's failure to apologize to Beth following his suicide attempt made her feel as though the act was malicious.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon