Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Conrad visits Dr. Berger's office for the first time. Anxiety begins to overtake him when he steps inside the dark and shabby building. Upon reaching Dr. Berger's suite, though, he's greeted by the surprising sight of overturned paper and scattered furniture. Conrad notices the doctor's piercing blue eyes and "the look of a crafty monkey" he has about him. Berger's demeanor and questions unsettle him. Berger is light and humorous, even asking Conrad about his attempted suicide in an off-handed manner. Conrad tells Berger about how he tried to kill himself by cutting his wrists with a razor blade. For a brief moment Conrad suspects that the weird scene in Berger's office might be some kind of test, but he soon dismisses the idea.
Therapy is one of the many recovery tools Conrad has not yet tried. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it marks yet another situation in which he has little control. Berger's dynamic appearance and casual mood, which represent a kind of openness Conrad can't experience when he's with family or friends, affect him in much the same way as Jeannine does.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Dr. Berger and Conrad settle into their first session. When Berger asks what he'd like to accomplish in their sessions, Conrad expresses a desire to be "more in control." Accordingly, he quickly becomes skeptical of Berger's approach. He dislikes the doctor's nonstop stream of questions—it reminds him of his time in hospital—and is put on edge by his haunting blue eyes (which are described as "high-beams"). However, he answers Berger dutifully. He mentions his father, who worries about him constantly; his mother, who seems not to worry at all; and his brother, who died in a sailing accident. Berger urges Conrad to meet with him twice a week, which means that Conrad will have to skip swim practice to attend sessions with Dr. Berger.
Undergoing therapy with Berger requires Conrad to allow someone else to control him. The fact that Conrad will have to give up swimming for therapy foreshadows the radical shift in perspective that awaits him. Solving his problem will require him to move his attention away from his body and onto his mind.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
After the appointment, Conrad reflects on his time with Berger. In retrospect, he appreciates the doctor's casualness. It's a kind of openness that reminds him of his time in the hospital: "No one hid anything there." But he also recognizes the uniqueness of that feeling; beyond the walls of Berger's office, he grows self-conscious again. As he heads home he avoids making eye contact with passers-by, lest they see and notice his problem.
In his reflection, Conrad mentions the desire to "stay open." He wants to be open and honest about his issue, but feels unable to do it with any of the people he knows (except Berger, that is).
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon