Ordinary People

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Beth is mother to Conrad and Buck and wife to Cal Jarrett. She is the envy of many characters in the novel; she is physically attractive, driven, and a perfectionist. Her reaction to hardship is tightly controlled, and usually leads her to conceal her feelings. She is emotionally distant from Conrad (he describes her as a "deeply personal person"), and from the rest of her family as well.

Beth Jarrett Quotes in Ordinary People

The Ordinary People quotes below are all either spoken by Beth Jarrett or refer to Beth Jarrett. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of Ordinary People published in 1982.
Chapter 4 Quotes

Self-possessed is what she is; he emphatically does not own her, nor does he have control over her, nor can he understand or even predict with reliability her moods, her attitudes. She is a marvelous mystery to him; as complex, as interesting as she appeared to him on that first day he met her some twenty-two years ago on the tennis courts at the Beverly Racquet Club.

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett, Beth Jarrett
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we get a better sense for the relationship between Calvin and Beth. Beth is a beautiful, self-possessed woman who always knows how to take care of herself; she places great stock in being confident, collected, and reliable. Calvin is dazzled by his wife's confidence, and respects her greatly for it. He seems to be very much in love with her; in part, we sense, he continues to love her because he doesn't totally understand her--she's still a dazzling mystery to him after 22 years.

The passage shows Beth's strengths, and yet also implies that her strengths might be weaknesses when it comes to caring for children. Beth's emphasis on strength and confidence doesn't endear her to her son, Conrad, who's in the grips of depression, and likewise Beth finds it difficult to understand Conrad. Beth struggles to open up to other people; as a result, Conrad has an equally hard time opening up to her.

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Chapter 11 Quotes

"…Beth, too. How is she? I only see her at bridge once a month, and we never seem to get a chance to talk."
"She's busy, too," Cal says. "She's chairing the tennis tournament at Onwentsia next spring. She spends a lot of time over there."
"I admire her organization," Carole says. "She's such a perfectionist. And yet she never lets herself get trapped into things she doesn't want to do. Now, there's an art. I'm just beginning to learn the trick myself. I hope it's not too late!"

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett (speaker), Beth Jarrett
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Cal runs into a family friend, Carole Lazenby, the mother of Lazenby (Conrad's friend). Carole asks Cal for an update on Beth--Carole has known Beth a long time, and complains that she only sees Beth at bridge now. Interestingly, Carole seems not to realize that anything is wrong with Beth--despite the fact that Beth has lost a son recently, Carole thinks of Beth as a perfectly composed, organized person.

Beth's commitment to organization and control is impressive, one could say--but it's also unnerving how little emotion Beth shows regarding her sons; one gets the idea that she's in denial about Conrad's depression. And the fact that Carole asks Cal for updates on Beth underscores the sad fact that Cal, too, doesn't really know Beth is doing--Beth is so focused on outward appearances and controlling everything that Cal himself doesn't really have any information on his wife that Carole isn't already aware of.

Chapter 13 Quotes

His nerves are raw. His eyes feel as if they have sunk back into his head, pulling the flesh down. "Beth. Please. Let's just go upstairs!"
"No! I will not be pushed!" she says. She moves away from him to stand before the window, looking out. Calmly she says, "I will not be manipulated."

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett (speaker), Beth Jarrett (speaker)
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

In this tense scene, Conrad explodes at his mother for refusing to visit him while he was in the hospital. Beth, he suggests, is so closed-off that she won't admit the truth--she doesn't love him as much as she says she does. Curiously, Beth doesn't respond to Conrad's accusations with understanding or sympathy. She weeps, but mostly she just digs in her heels, insisting that she won't be manipulated into changing her behavior. In other words, Beth sees Conrad's outburst as a simple attempt to manipulate her, rather than a sincere expression of his feelings (which we know it to be).

The passage is a great example of how Berger's techniques actually help Conrad in the long run. Conrad's outburst might not seem productive in this chapter alone, but because he lets Beth know how he's been feeling, the fundamental problems in Conrad's family become clearer, and Conrad moves one step closer to remedying them.

Chapter 21 Quotes

"If I were here," she had said, "I would never come back. Not for a house in Glencoe, not for the children, not for anything. It is too humiliating."
"Why? She loves him. What does it matter?"
"It matters that we know about it," she said.
"Suppose nobody knew about it? Then would it be humiliating?"
"I would know," she said, "and you would know. That's enough."

A thrill of fear had touched him. Is it that some people are not given a capacity for forgiveness, just as some are cheated out of beauty by a pointed nose, or not allowed the adequate amount of brain matter? It is not in her nature to forgive.

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett (speaker), Beth Jarrett (speaker), Ray Hanley
Page Number: 176
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Beth and Cal discuss their friend Ray Hanley, who's had an affair recently. The discussion brings out a lot about their personalities. Cal seems more willing to forgive people for their mistakes--even adultery. Beth, on the other hand, seems incapable of forgiveness of any kind--if her husband were to cheat on her, she claims, she would never be able to take him back. Cal, thinking that Beth is more frightened of the public humiliation of an affair--i.e., other people knowing about it--suggests such a possibility to Beth. Beth, however, insists that she would never be able to forgive him for having an affair, no matter who did or didn't know about it--and no matter the repercussions (like losing her house or custody of her children).

We and Cal both begin to get a better idea of Beth's character here. Beth is not a forgiving person--it's almost like something in her genetics. But Beth usually makes up for her inability to forgive by being an incredibly positive-seeming person; she's always collected and calm around other people. Beneath the surface, though, there's a lot of resentment and hatred, which she never shows other people.

Chapter 25 Quotes

But it surprises him that she would be as reserved with Audrey. She likes Audrey. And it was an honest question. An honest interest, not like Marty Genthe's. Why duck it? He is in the process of making a discovery: that he never knows how to read her, and she offers him no clues. There are fewer and fewer openings into the vast obscurity of her nature. He is on the outside, looking in, all the time. Has he always been?

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett, Beth Jarrett, Audrey Butler
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, narrated from Cal's point of view, Cal and his wife are visiting with a friend, Audrey Butler. Audrey asks Beth about Conrad, and to Cal's surprise, Beth doesn't offer a genuine response--she seems reserved, as if she's hiding something. Cal can't understand why Beth is being so reticent with someone she considers a friend.

Cal's observations remind him that Beth has been more closeted and quiet in general lately--and perhaps always has been. While she continues to be cheerful and confident around friends, she almost never tells Cal about her feelings--Cal, more and more, feels that he's on the outside, looking in at Beth (and wonders if their previous closeness was just a delusion of his). As the novel goes on, then, Cal and Beth become more distant with each other: their different responses to Conrad's emotional struggle drive them apart and reveal the basic differences in their personalities.

Chapter 28 Quotes

"Hate him? How could I hate him? Mothers don't hate their sons! I don't hate him! But he makes demands on me! He tries to blackmail me!"

Related Characters: Beth Jarrett (speaker), Conrad Jarrett, Beth Jarrett
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important scene, Beth and Calvin quarrel about Beth's relationship with Conrad, their son. Beth says that she doesn't "hate" Conrad--assuming, for some reason, that Calvin is accusing her of hating Conrad (despite the fact that Calvin never said so). Beth's explanation for why she doesn't hate Conrad is fascinating--instead of offering specific reasons, she just says that mothers aren't supposed to hate their sons.

Beth's attitude toward Conrad is indicative of her reserved, closeted personality. She doesn't hate Conrad, but not hating someone isn't the same as loving them. Beth is motivated by a sense of her social role as a mother--she thinks of being Conrad's mother as a duty--thus, she's very different from Calvin, who loves Conrad unconditionally. It's important to note that Beth is finally facing her feelings about Conrad and Calvin. While Beth is usually more likely to keep her true feelings bottled up, her conversation with Calvin brings out the truth: she is distancing herself from Conrad, because she doesn't know how to interact with him, and perhaps never did.

Chapter 31 Quotes

And there are too many rooms to which he has no access; too much that he doesn't understand any more. If he could know what he used to know! But what did he really know? There is addiction here: to secrecy; to a private core within herself that is so much deeper than he ever imagined it to be. He has no such core; at least, he cannot find it, if it is there. Is it fair to deny her the right to keep it, because he hasn't this space? This need?

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett, Beth Jarrett
Page Number: 253
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, Cal begins to accept that he'll never really understand his wife, and vice-versa. Beth is an intensely private person--she doesn't feel comfortable showing off her emotions or expressing them to other people, even her own family. As Beth packs her things, seemingly intending to leave Cal forever, Cal wonders how they've grown so far apart. As he thinks, Cal comes to realize that he and Beth have always had major differences--it wasn't until Conrad's depression began that Cal became aware of how different he and his wife were.

In a nutshell, Beth seems to have a "secret center," which she can't share with anybody. Cal, by contrast, has no guardedness--he prefers to share his feelings with other people. The passage doesn't necessarily say that Cal's approach to life is better than Beth's, but it does suggests that Cal and Beth are leaving each other because of irreconcilable differences--their strategies for coping with grief, and with life itself, are just too different.

For he sees something else here: that her outer life is deceiving; that she gives the appearance of orderliness, of a cash-register practicality about herself; but inside, what he has glimpsed is not order, but chaos; not practicality at all, but stubborn, incredible impulse.

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett, Beth Jarrett
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

In the end, the novel seems to feel sorry for Beth. In part because of the way she was raised, she struggles to cope with grief--she doesn't know how to show emotions or share them with other people. While people cope with grief in many different ways, the novel comes to suggest that Beth's strategies for coping with her feelings simply aren't healthy. The key word in this passage is "deceiving." Cal realizes that his (soon-to-be-ex) wife can only get through life by lying to herself. She tells herself that everything is fine--even if it's clearly not. For years, however, Beth's deceptions have worked: she's fooled all of her friends and neighbors (and Cal himself) into believing that she and Cal have the perfect marriage, and even fooled herself into believing that she's happy. Cal comes to feel sorry for his wife: she's so stubborn in her behavior that she can't stand showing any weakness, and possibly doesn't even know how to.

Epilogue Quotes

In a letter that she wrote to his grandmother she said, "The Aegean is bluer than the Atlantic, and rough and bumpy. It looks just the way the boys drew it on those funny school maps." For she had saved them all—the maps and papers and a construction-paper valentine trimmed with Kleenex-lace that he had made for her—and packed them away in a box he had found in the basement, when they had moved out. Do you save stuff like that if it means nothing to you?

Related Characters: Conrad Jarrett, Beth Jarrett
Related Symbols: Color, Water
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel comes to an end, Conrad comes to realize that Beth--in spite of the fact that she has trouble showing her feelings--really does love him deeply. Beth has kept Conrad and Buck's childhood arts and crafts, and clearly thinks of Conrad with nothing but affection. The problem isn't that Beth doesn't love her son--she just doesn't know how to tell him.

The passage is crucial because it reminds us that Conrad's road to recovery hinges upon his decision to forgive Beth. Conrad shows that he's become a much more mature person over the course of the book--he's learned to see the world from other people's point of view, recognizing that we all have different ways of coping with grief and loss. Even if Beth doesn't have the courage or confidence to open up to Conrad, it's suggested, Conrad will make the effort to get closer to his mother and make an effort to understand her feelings.

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Beth Jarrett Character Timeline in Ordinary People

The timeline below shows where the character Beth Jarrett appears in Ordinary People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Down the hall from Conrad's room, Calvin (Conrad's father, called Cal for short) and Beth (his mother) are also starting their day. Beth urges to Cal to make sure their... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...home. At first he thinks he's alone—the house is dark and quiet—but he accidentally startles Beth as she enters the house and climbs the stairs. They have a stilted chat about... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Beth has asked Cal to lunch with promises of "good news." As Cal enters the restaurant... (full context)
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As Cal approaches Beth, she produces a folder full of information from a travel agency. Beth eagerly explains that... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
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...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. (full context)
Chapter 6
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The fight with Beth reminds Cal of his struggle to answer the question Who the hell are you? for... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...how much less time they spend together than before. Carole also mentions her admiration for Beth's constant composure. Carole fears she's becoming less and less composed as she moves into middle... (full context)
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After lunch Cal considers Carole's remarks about Beth, comparing her seeming composure to what he remembers of the years when Conrad and Buck... (full context)
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Cal and Beth chat about their day later that evening. Cal reminds Beth about a car they'd been... (full context)
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...wife Nancy at a party seven years before. She'd mentioned that she was jealous of Beth, and how she was "lucky…never to have been disillusioned" with marriage. Cal was upset by... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...the timing isn't right, his father would get too worked up. When Berger asks how Beth would respond, Conrad asserts that Beth wouldn't care at all. His mother, he says, is... (full context)
Chapter 13
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Cal and Conrad begin setting up the tree in their living room. Beth returns home from "a meeting," which he elusively describes as "interesting." She explains that she... (full context)
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Beth continues to scold Conrad for keeping this secret for a month. Conrad explodes with anger,... (full context)
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Cal tries to comfort Beth, who is shaking and sobbing. He wants the two to make up, but Beth refuses,... (full context)
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...Conrad lying face down on his bed. He tries to persuade Conrad to apologize to Beth, but Conrad complains that he's too tired. He also doesn't think his effort would be... (full context)
Chapter 14
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The day after his fight with Beth, Conrad is heavy with guilt. Not only does he feel bad about himself, but he... (full context)
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...As the mood settles, Berger tries to help Conrad put the argument into perspective. Perhaps Beth's personality prevents her from being more emotionally invested. Conrad remains convinced that he is the... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Beth's parents Howard and Ellen visit the Jarretts for Christmas. Cal surveys the scene quietly; Ellen's... (full context)
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...shakily) to the contrary and decides to take the car for a test drive. As Beth and Ellen withdraw into the house, Cal begins to feel disappointed. (full context)
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After the day's activities, Beth and Cal linger in the living room. Cal broods quietly, worrying that his family's recent... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...wrong with his father. Cal can't point to any particular problem either, but impressions of Beth, Conrad, and even Buck come to mind as he considers making an appointment. (full context)
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...he feels powerless – especially when it comes to managing the relationship between Conrad and Beth's relationship. (full context)
Chapter 18
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...but Carole Lazenby greets him warmly and introduces him to the rest of the women. Beth sits by but is mostly quiet. As he moves toward his room, Mrs. Lazenby urges... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...fine, and that he plans to compete in an upcoming lawyers' golf tournament in Dallas. Beth is going with him, and they will stay with her brother and his wife nearby.... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
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...Ray's advice is unsolicited. He swears once again that he isn't worried about Conrad, or Beth for that matter. Ray reveals that his wife Nancy and Beth met each other for... (full context)
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...that cropped up in the days leading up to Conrad's suicide attempt. Cal concludes that Beth might be right about his lack of focus, but he refuses to believe that life... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...he forgets to ring Jeannine's doorbell. After a while the front door opens, and Jeannine's mother greets him. She invites him into the living room. While waiting for Jeannine, Conrad meets... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
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...home. Her parents are divorced; her father is a salesman in Akron, Ohio, and her mother is a nurse in a nearby town. Jeannine explains her uncle helped her mother find... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Cal tells Beth about the golf tournament. Since they were unable to travel to Europe for Christmas, he... (full context)
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...including "withdraw[ing] friendship" and cutting ties after Cal decided to marry. Bacon firmly believed that Beth was "not a sharer"; he claimed that she would demand too much of Cal's attention.... (full context)
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...Cal to the verge of tears (a common occurrence since visiting Dr. Berger). He remembered Beth's assertion that Bacon was only interested in Cal as long as Call needed him around;... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...blood off of his jacket, but notices a stubborn spot on his shirt. Not wanting Beth to ask questions about it, he struggles to scrub it clean. After tidying up he... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Cal hears the sound of Beth's breathing as he prepares for bed. In the moment he realizes that he hadn't seen... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Cal and Beth head off to Dallas. Conrad decides to stay with his grandparents Howard and Ellen, Beth's... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Cal relaxes at Ward and Audrey's house after a day playing golf. Beth and her brother have gone horseback riding, leaving Cal and Audrey with her two sons... (full context)
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Inwardly, Cal sympathizes with Audrey. He, too, has sensed Beth's growing reluctance to discuss certain issues. He recalls how she fussed at him in a... (full context)
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Soon Beth and Ward return from horseback riding in high spirits. The four of them make lighthearted... (full context)
Chapter 28
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Ward, Audrey, Beth, and Cal spend the evening outdoors, watching Charlie and Kerry swim in the backyard pool.... (full context)
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Cal and Beth have a pleasant exchange about the tournament. Beth even suggests that she and Cal play... (full context)
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...of drinks before dinner, during which Cal has allowed himself to get drunk. He and Beth are no longer sitting by one another; their earlier disagreement has grown into a grudge.... (full context)
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Beth rails against Cal's moping. She blames him for wanting to dampen her mood. Cal doesn't... (full context)
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...Audrey stand by the living room door, not wanting to intrude on the situation, but Beth addresses them. She saw Conrad's attempted suicide as an attempt to manipulate her emotions; it... (full context)
Chapter 29
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Beth and Cal return home without speaking to one another. Cal has finally realized that trying... (full context)
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Beth, Cal, and, and Conrad go to dinner. Cal is surprised at Beth's attention to their... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Beth packs her things. She decides to leave Cal because she resents his pity for her.... (full context)
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...big," and the money could be put to better use. Clumsily, Cal also mentions that Beth is "taking a trip" for a while. Conrad doesn't understand why his father isn't going... (full context)
Epilogue
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As Conrad stands alone in Lazenby's backyard, he remembers a letter Beth had written to Ellen, describing some drawings that he and Buck had made as kids.... (full context)