Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Cal studies his secretary, Cherry, as she looks for a file in the office. He notices her appearance and her dress—and soon slips into noticing a bundle of details about her and the scene outside his window. Eventually his eye lands on his calendar, and he remembers the tasks he has to accomplish during the day. Finally, he remembers a fight that he and Beth had the night before. What started as another argument about vacationing in London ended with Beth asking Cal to stop worrying so much about Conrad, and the family as a whole.
The sense of "responsibility" and "noticing" that causes Cal to obsess about Conrad's well-being is on display here. In contrast to his hyperactive sense of attention, Cal's only sense of self is found in the lists of jobs he has to do.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
The fight with Beth reminds Cal of his struggle to answer the question Who the hell are you? for himself. He compares himself to a figure in his past, one "who knew who he was" quite well: Arnold Bacon, a lawyer and his former mentor. Bacon plucked Cal from the Evangelical Home when he was seventeen; he'd noticed his excellent grades and paid young Cal's way through college and law school. The two maintained a deep relationship until Cal met Beth—an event that turned Bacon against him. Because Bacon didn't have patience for law students who married while in school, he withdrew his support. Cal remembers this rejection as his first experience with grief.
Cal's own wounds remain to be healed. As an orphan, he lost the closest thing he'd ever had to a father-son relationship when Bacon broke contact with him. Ultimately, the fragility of his relationships gives rise to his lack of self-confidence. Unable to identify himself in relation to others, he merely drifts through the circumstances he encounters.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cherry returns to Cal's office with the papers she'd been looking for. Once again he studies her behavior, this time thinking up reasons to explain why she seems to "work so hard" at presenting herself. With his secretary and Bacon still in mind, Cal determines that [He's] the kind of man who—hasn't the least idea what kind of man [he is]. He also remembers that his son Jordan (known as Buck) would have turned nineteen that very day.
Perhaps the surest thing in Cal's life is the sense of guilt he feels about the past. Despite the many people and things that occupy his present, the most vivid parts of his day are his memories of Bacon and his dead son.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon