Conrad is the protagonist of the novel. He is the youngest son of Calvin and Beth Jarrett; his older brother, Buck, dies in a sailing accident before the novel's plot begins. Ordinary People… (read full character analysis)
Calvin, who is called Cal throughout the novel, is father to Conrad and Buck and husband to Beth Jarrett. A childhood spent in an orphanage fuels Cal's deep desire to care and provide… (read full character analysis)
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… (read full character analysis)
Conrad's psychiatrist. He is wildly different from Dr. Crawford or any of the other staff members from the hospital in which Conrad was kept for three months. Though off-putting in his appearance and mannerisms, Berger's… (read full character analysis)
Jordan (Buck) Jarrett
Conrad's brother; Beth and Cal's son. Though he only appears in flashbacks and secondhand references, Buck is arguably the most important character in the novel. His death in a sailing accident triggers the emotional hardship through which the Jarretts struggle throughout Ordinary People.
A relatively new student at Conrad's school, Jeannine is Conrad's love interest. She sings in the school choir with him, and she is treated as an angelic figure for much of the novel. However, her troubled past enables her to help Conrad work through his own.
Another of Conrad's friends, and a fellow member of the swim team. Though the two are supposed to be friends, Stillman often antagonizes Conrad, and the two come to blows near the climax of the novel.
Dr. Leo Crawford
Conrad's main counselor during his time in the mental hospital. Like Buck, Crawford himself never appears in the novel. But his care sets a precedent to which Conrad, his family, Karen, and Berger react in their journey to recovery.
Cal's former mentor. Bacon plucks Cal from the Evangelical Home and takes him under his wing as a protégé; he puts Cal through law school and helps him establish his career as a lawyer. Bacon's character and words haunt Cal as he struggles to figure out his own personality.
Cal's legal partner. Cal looks to Ray for advice about running a family, but Ray is largely unable to give his friend much guidance.
Coach of Conrad's swim team. He is a constant point of frustration for Conrad. Above all else, Salan is insensitive to Conrad's mental issues.
(Phil) Truan, (Don) Genthe, (Dick) Van Buren
Conrad's (estranged) friends; members of the swim team.
Beth's brother. He lives in Dallas with his wife Audrey.
Ward's wife; Beth's sister-in-law.
Charlie and Kerry Butler
Ward and Audrey's sons.
Howard and Ellen Butler
Conrad's grandparents; Beth's parents.
Jeannine's younger brother.
Cal and Ray's secretary.
A former secretary of Cal and Ray's. She was "the best legal secretary" the firm ever had, but she leaves the firm after having an affair with Ray.
A girl in Conrad's trigonometry class. He sympathizes with her academic struggles.
The Murrays, the Genthes, and the Klines
A few families in the Jarretts' neighborhood.
A friend of Conrad's from the hospital.
Encounters Conrad as the climax of the novel begins.
Follows Conrad through his local library in a pivotal scene.
Ms. Pratt's boyfriend.