Ordinary People

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Color Symbol Analysis

Color Symbol Icon
Guest uses color to represent characters' emotional states. Because Conrad and many of the other characters in the novel are deeply affected by changes in their environment, the appearance of places, things, and even people come to represent various states of being. Three colors occur most often. Blue represents anxiety; it is manifested in the outfit Jeannine wears when Conrad sees her for the first time, and is also the color of Dr. Berger's piercing eyes. Gray symbolizes failure; many of the narration's descriptions of weather mention the gray sky of early-winter Illinois. Lastly, gold marks truth or insight; ideas or characters that are valued highly by a character are decked in the color, as Jeannine is in later parts of the novel, as is Cal's bathroom mirror in the second chapter.

Color Quotes in Ordinary People

The Ordinary People quotes below all refer to the symbol of Color. 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 24 Quotes

She pulls in her breath, and her arms are around his waist, her head on his chest. He stands, holding her; tests the feeling of someone leaning on him, looking to him for support. He feels as if he could stand here holding her forever. Her lashes are wet, golden in the harsh overhead light. He lifts her chin with his hand and kisses her. Her face is tear-streaked, her mouth loose under his, turned slightly down. He has never felt so strong, so needed.

Related Characters: Conrad Jarrett, Jeannine Pratt
Related Symbols: Color
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jeannine Pratt opens up to Conrad about her feelings regarding her parents. Jeannine tells Conrad that her mother was seeing a man named Paul, a friend of her father's, before her parents were divorced. Jeannine begins to cry as she says this, and the two kiss. Conrad feels an incredibly rush of strength and security.

Why is Conrad so moved by Jeannine's own show of emotion? For once, Conrad isn't the one who needs emotional support--instead, he's giving it to other people. The beauty of Conrad and Jeannine's relationship is that they've both been through some pain--they feel comfortable opening up to each other about their pain, and look to each other for support and love in their times of need.


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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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Color Symbol Timeline in Ordinary People

The timeline below shows where the symbol Color appears in Ordinary People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 16
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...out to the parking lot – and by surprise he encounters her again, noticing her blue skirt and blue car. Nonchalantly, she apologizes for embarrassing him, flirtatiously complements his good looks,... (full context)
Chapter 17
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...Berger. Like his son, Cal is struck by Berger's crazed appearance and the "sharp, stinging blue" of his eyes. His nervous attention to detail runs wild in Berger's office, causing his... (full context)
Chapter 18
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...handful of details as he glances around the classroom: his peers hard at work, the blue shadows of trees on the snow outside, his teacher passing through the aisles of the... (full context)
Chapter 26
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...Conrad is jolted awake; he looks around and realizes that everything in his room is blue. In the next dream, Conrad revisits the moment he slit his wrists. (full context)