Ordinary People

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Water Symbol Analysis

Water Symbol Icon
Water appears in several different forms throughout Ordinary People. It is arguably the basis of the Jarretts' main conflict, since Buck's death in a sailing accident is the root cause of Conrad's suicide attempt and the ensuing fallout. It also appears in Conrad's environment. As a member of his school's swim team, Conrad spends much of his time in and around water; tellingly, the activity is one which brings him a lot of stress. Precipitation either works against him (as it does in the form of rain or puddles) or yields to him (in the form of melting snow, for example). Most dramatically, water acts as a bridge between Conrad's physical and emotional well-being. Late in the novel the narrator explains that Conrad "does his best thinking" in the shower – and the shower happens to be the place where Conrad works through the trauma of his brother's death. The physical feeling of water joins forces with the memory of sailing to help Conrad process the accident holistically.
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Water Symbol Timeline in Ordinary People

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in Ordinary People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 22
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...poorly; for a moment he regrets leaving the team. After the meet he tiptoes through the slushy parking lot to get to his car, but on the way he hears his friends complaining about... (full context)
Chapter 26
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Back at his grandparents' house, Conrad gets a glass of water from the faucet and washes his hands. He soon heads to the living room and... (full context)
Chapter 27
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Instead of going to Howard and Ellen's house, Conrad returns to his own house to shower. The hot water helps him relax and to think. He remembers Berger's words about the... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
As the water rushes over him, Conrad recalls playing a game with his brother in the garage many... (full context)