Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Beth has asked Cal to lunch with promises of "good news." As Cal enters the restaurant to meet her, he recalls her surprising liveliness on the phone. It reminds him of the first time they met: he and Ray played a round of tennis against Beth and one of her friends at a local country club. Noticing his wife at a table, he realizes that the beauty and decisiveness he currently appreciates in her were evident even from their first meeting. Even now he imagines her being the envy of all the patrons in the restaurant.
To Cal (and others), Beth's beauty is treated as proof of her presumed perfection. This, combined with her intensely proactive personality, make her a person whose focus is entirely outward. She impacts others, but – as will be seen later on – avoids being impacted herself.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
As Cal approaches Beth, she produces a folder full of information from a travel agency. Beth eagerly explains that a small getaway is exactly what the family needs to unwind after a few months of intense strain. Cal disagrees. Conrad is still readjusting to life as a student, and he feels that time off would hinder his progress. Most importantly, he believes the family's trip to Florida the year before was to blame for their troubles. Beth urges Cal not to blame himself, and claims that the vacation is something the entire family needs. The conversation ends in a stalemate.
Beth and Cal's parenting styles come into direct conflict. So do their ideas about control: Cal wants to know as much as possible in hopes of controlling the situation, but Beth wants to keep her distance. Cal's attitude reflects his ideas about fatherhood and relationships – and so do Beth's.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Back at the office, Cal mulls over some projects he is working on. He glances out of his office window, remembering the progress he'd made since his early days as a law partner with his friend Ray. Ray breaks in to discuss some business, and also to make some small talk about Beth and Conrad. Conversation about his son puts Cal on edge, so Ray decides to back off and leave Cal to his work.
Between developing projects and caring for his son, Cal has a difficult time figuring out exactly how and why he is needed in others' lives.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
After a little while Cal decides to look up Dr. Tyrone Berger's phone number, all the while reviewing his responsibilities as a father and Conrad's duties as an obedient son. He just wants to make sure Conrad made it to his first psychiatric appointment like he'd promised. A twinge of guilt still gnaws at him; Cal does, in fact, feel responsible for his son's attempted suicide. Beth's assertion that it was "nobody's fault" is too difficult for him to accept.
Cal realizes that seeking control offers him little hope; calling Dr. Berger will do nothing to ensure that Conrad keeps the appointment. Yet Cal is determined to do what he can in order to make himself a part of the situation. He realizes his folly, even as he acts.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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