Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Conrad returns home from his visit with Karen. He finds Cal watching TV in the living room; the two make small talk about the day, the coming week, and Conrad's schoolwork. The conversation is light, but ever-dutiful Cal works to "keep it flowing." He mentions Beth's wish to visit London for vacation. Conrad says he would go along with the plan for Beth's sake. Soon Beth appears in the doorway to the living room. She and Cal are off to a party hosted by the Murrays, a family in the neighborhood with whom the Jarretts are only slightly acquainted.
The conversation between Conrad, Cal, and even Beth is not very strained, but it isn't as free as it could be. And it's not substantive. It's little more than small talk; Conrad's answers disclose very little about the difficulties surrounding his life at school.
Themes
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Soon Cal and Beth reach the Murrays'. Inside they fine the Genthes and the Klines, other families who live in the neighborhood. The atmosphere is energetic; Cal and Beth are quickly pulled into conversation with other people. Just as quickly, someone mentions Conrad, asking if he had been sick recently. Beth simply replies that he's recovered and doing fine. But before the conversation can move forward, dinner is announced.
Courtesy is important at this small gathering of upper-middle-class adults. But the atmosphere at the Murrays' is loose, even liberating. The narration emphasizes the sexual undertones of an environment in which married couples break away from and mingle with one another freely. Beth navigates the conflict between freedom and restraint by sticking with the latter—downplaying Conrad's situation is a matter of keeping up appearances.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
After dinner comes more conversation. Cal chats with Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Genthe. The latter asks again how Conrad is doing, noting that her son considers Conrad more distant than he was in the past. Cal slowly opens up about his son's visits with Dr. Berger, which quickly proves to be a mistake – Beth hears the conversation from across the room, and abruptly excuses herself and Cal from the party. She scolds her husband in the car, insistent that saying too much about Conrad was "in the worst possible taste" and "a violation of privacy."
Note the narration's attention to the physical intimacy of the characters, as well as the brief flashback to Cal's New Year's Eve encounter with Sara Murray. Cal cannot restrain himself where Beth would consider courtesy a necessity. Though he fumbles with tact, he tries to calm his wife by noting that therapy is something of a status symbol.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
The Jarretts return home. As he heads toward his room, Cal looks in on Conrad (who has fallen asleep studying). He looks around Conrad's room, paying close attention—he notes especially the long scar carved into his son's forearm. Whispering a quick prayer for his son's sake, he slips into bed. He's had too much to drink at the party, though, and is unable to fall asleep. All he can to is "keep watch and continue to listen."
Cal lovingly notices details of both Conrad and Beth's physical appearance. He cares deeply for both of them—but this scene, when considered together with the argument before it, offers a glimpse of the difficulty Cal will have in negotiating his love for both of them.
Themes
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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