Ordinary People

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Ordinary People Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Conrad tries to keep calm as he takes a pop quiz in trigonometry class. Looking around the room, he notices Suzanne Mosely, a girl he'd known since junior high school. She, too, is struggling with the quiz. At the end of the period Conrad sees Suzanne crying in the hallway. He approaches her and tries to ease her worries about the quiz, offering her to help her study. Suzanne is suspicious of his offer and refuses. As she walks away, he hears Stillman's voice calling out to him. Later, Stillman and Van Buren tease him about the encounter at swim practice, asking if Mosely and Conrad plan to go out on a date that weekend.
Conrad reacts to the anxiety of others with more tenderness than he does to his own. This attempt to establish a relationship of trust with a peer unfortunately fails. Once again, Stillman and the other swimmers snuff out one of Conrad's rare affectionate moments.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
In bed, Conrad rehashes the day's events in his mind. The mild embarrassment of Suzanne's refusal returns, but he remembers something else too—his math teacher, Mr. Simmons, had been watching him intently throughout the quiz. Conrad is suddenly reminded of a hazy string of events from the previous year, just before his suicide attempt: Mr. Simmons noticing Conrad's deepening depression, his homeroom teacher's probing questions, him lying motionless in bed as his family spent Christmas vacation at the beach.
Conrad's mental illness is not just a private issue; it affects his schoolwork and his relationships with others. Yet from the outside, Conrad's teachers and peers cannot recognize what's happening to him on the inside. He withdraws mentally even as he remains present physically.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad dreams he is walking alone on a bright moonlit beach. Ahead of him he sees a large metal tunnel, which he enters. As he moves further and further into the tunnel the walls close in, until he is trapped in a tiny space on hands and knees. He tries to escape from the small dark space, but is trapped and thrown into a panic. He screams and is jolted awake.
This is the first of several dreams and flashbacks to appear in the novel. In this and other moments like it, we realize that feelings of helplessness and isolation are what plague Conrad most deeply.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad discusses the dream with Dr. Berger at his next therapy session. In his typically casual way Berger downplays the dream at first, but eventually admits that he finds it fascinating. He suspects that Conrad is extremely anxious about something. He's right; Conrad confirms that he no longer enjoys swimming. His skills are waning, he's annoyed with his teammates, and he considers Salan insensitive to his mental issues. Berger urges Conrad to solve his problem in a way that feels right, even if it looks ridiculous to everyone around him. True to form, Conrad mocks the doctor's nebulous advice.
Berger's hands-off approach gives Conrad space to work through his problems. Their relationship is not that of parent and child – one commands, the other obeys. Instead, theirs is a relationship of honest exchange. Berger listens to Conrad's concerns, but does not try to force a solution onto him. But he does urge Conrad to put his feelings before his concern for appearance.
Themes
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
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