Ordinary People

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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Beth has asked Cal to lunch with promises of "good news." As Cal enters the restaurant... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
The fight with Beth reminds Cal of his struggle to answer the question Who the hell are you? for... (full context)
Chapter 8
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
...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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal and Beth chat about their day later that evening. Cal reminds Beth about a car they'd been... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Beth continues to scold Conrad for keeping this secret for a month. Conrad explodes with anger,... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal tries to comfort Beth, who is shaking and sobbing. He wants the two to make up, but Beth refuses,... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
The day after his fight with Beth, Conrad is heavy with guilt. Not only does he feel bad about himself, but he... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Beth's parents Howard and Ellen visit the Jarretts for Christmas. Cal surveys the scene quietly; Ellen's... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...he feels powerless – especially when it comes to managing the relationship between Conrad and Beth's relationship. (full context)
Chapter 18
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal tells Beth about the golf tournament. Since they were unable to travel to Europe for Christmas, he... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal and Beth head off to Dallas. Conrad decides to stay with his grandparents Howard and Ellen, Beth's... (full context)
Chapter 25
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Soon Beth and Ward return from horseback riding in high spirits. The four of them make lighthearted... (full context)
Chapter 28
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Ward, Audrey, Beth, and Cal spend the evening outdoors, watching Charlie and Kerry swim in the backyard pool.... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal and Beth have a pleasant exchange about the tournament. Beth even suggests that she and Cal play... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Beth rails against Cal's moping. She blames him for wanting to dampen her mood. Cal doesn't... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Beth and Cal return home without speaking to one another. Cal has finally realized that trying... (full context)
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Beth, Cal, and, and Conrad go to dinner. Cal is surprised at Beth's attention to their... (full context)
Chapter 31
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Beth packs her things. She decides to leave Cal because she resents his pity for her.... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...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)