Ordinary People

Calvin (Cal) Jarrett 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 for his family, and is a major factor in his eventual decision to become a lawyer. Despite his material comfort, Cal harbors a deep sense of responsibility for both of his sons' misfortunes. A sense of helplessness in the face of fate – combined with the looming memory of his one-time mentor Arnold Bacon – is Cal's main obstacle.

Calvin (Cal) Jarrett Quotes in Ordinary People

The Ordinary People quotes below are all either spoken by Calvin (Cal) Jarrett or refer to Calvin (Cal) 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 2 Quotes

He was named Calvin, for his dead uncle; Jarrett had been his mother's maiden name. When she came to see him, she came alone. No one claiming to be his father had ever been in attendance; he had no memories of being any man's son. So, if anyone should ask, he can always point out that he had no example to follow.

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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Responsibility. That is fatherhood. You cannot afford to miss any signs, because that is how it happens: somebody holding too much inside, somebody else missing signs.

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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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 8 Quotes

Later on, he may become bored and drink too much. Or else he will enjoy himself, relax, and drink too much. Another familiar pattern. He has noted this about himself lately: that he drinks too much when they go out. Because drinking helps. It has gotten him through many evenings, either deadening the pain or raising him above it to where small events seem pleasurable and worth recording.

Related Characters: Calvin (Cal) Jarrett
Page Number: 59
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 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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Calvin (Cal) Jarrett Character Timeline in Ordinary People

The timeline below shows where the character Calvin (Cal) Jarrett appears in Ordinary People. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Conrad hears the voice of his father, Calvin, calling to him from the other end of the hall. Conrad is jolted out... (full context)
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.... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Given his own lack of a father and family as a child, Cal worries about how to be a good father. But... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Being a good father, Cal believes, requires giving a healthy amount of distance. He feels that his best accomplishment... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
All of the Jarretts gather in the kitchen for breakfast. Cal checks in with Conrad to see how things are going. With a healthy dose of... (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 to meet her,... (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... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Back at the office, Cal mulls over some projects he is working on. He glances out of his office window,... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
After a little while Cal decides to look up Dr. Tyrone Berger's phone number, all the while reviewing his responsibilities... (full context)
Chapter 6
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Cal studies his secretary, Cherry, as she looks for a file in the office. He notices... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cherry returns to Cal's office with the papers she'd been looking for. Once again he studies her behavior, this... (full context)
Chapter 8
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Conrad returns home from his visit with Karen. He finds Cal watching TV in the living room; the two make small talk about the day, the... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
After dinner comes more conversation. Cal chats with Mrs. Murray and Mrs. Genthe. The latter asks again how Conrad is doing,... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
The Jarretts return home. As he heads toward his room, Cal looks in on Conrad (who has fallen asleep studying). He looks around Conrad's room, paying... (full context)
Chapter 10
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Cal makes his routine stop by Conrad's room to check in with him. Conrad flatly claims... (full context)
Chapter 11
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cherry is devastated after breaking up with her boyfriend. Ray is annoyed, but Cal feels for her. The normally perky secretary's emotional breakdown catches him off guard, and soon... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
At lunchtime Cal runs into Carole Lazenby. Not having seen each other in a while, they go to... (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... (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... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal recalls a conversation he'd had with Ray's wife Nancy at a party seven years before.... (full context)
Chapter 13
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Christmas is quickly approaching. Cal and Conrad are at a local tree farm, selecting a fir to display in their... (full context)
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... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...about him. Mother and son loudly blame each other for wanting to hurt the other. Cal tries to step in, but Conrad continues unloading on Beth. He expresses his resentment for... (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... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal finds Conrad lying face down on his bed. He tries to persuade Conrad to apologize... (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 good looks remind him of Beth's, and he finds the... (full context)
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...gifts after dinner. The parents and grandparents have all opened their gifts, and Howard and Cal can barely wait to give Conrad his biggest present. Urging him to look out onto... (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 grief has... (full context)
Chapter 17
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Conrad spends part of his birthday cleaning the garage with Cal. When the work is done, the two share sandwiches and beers. They also discuss memories... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal notices his son's unusually good mood. Curious, he asks about Berger and what he and... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Cal meets with Berger. Like his son, Cal is struck by Berger's crazed appearance and the... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
Revealing so much about himself so quickly makes Cal feel self-conscious, but Berger's easy manner encourages him to continue. Jokingly, Cal remembers Conrad's habit... (full context)
Chapter 19
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal and Ray have worked late into the night to catch up with work. Productivity has... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Ray searches for the root of Cal's disappointment. He tries to console Cal, explaining that Conrad will be off to college in... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Ray tries to ease Cal's burden, offering him the idea that life is nothing more than a series of "more-or-less... (full context)
Chapter 20
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
Jeannine tells Conrad about her family on the ride home. Her parents are divorced; her father is a salesman in Akron, Ohio, and her mother is a nurse in a nearby... (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... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Thoughts of Arnold Bacon cut in. Unlike Cal, the feeling of safety didn't restrain Bacon from making painful choices, including "withdraw[ing] friendship" and... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
The intense memories bring Cal to the verge of tears (a common occurrence since visiting Dr. Berger). He remembered Beth's... (full context)
Chapter 23
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal comes home around midnight. He sees Conrad on the couch; he'd presumably fallen asleep while... (full context)
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal hears the sound of Beth's breathing as he prepares for bed. In the moment he... (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... (full context)
Chapter 25
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
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"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Cal relaxes at Ward and Audrey's house after a day playing golf. Beth and her brother... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
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"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... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
...hesitates a bit but answers affirmatively. Ward asks a couple of questions about Conrad, but Cal is the one who answers him – Beth drops out, staring silently at her wristwatch... (full context)
Chapter 27
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...tied Conrad up with clothesline and gagged him with a handkerchief; as the game escalates Cal enters the garage and is shocked at the scene. He scolds and spanks Buck, who... (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. Cal has... (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... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
...and the Jarretts have had a few more rounds of drinks before dinner, during which Cal has allowed himself to get drunk. He and Beth are no longer sitting by one... (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 understand why Beth... (full context)
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
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"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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...an attempt to manipulate her emotions; it seemed like an elaborate accusation against her. Though Cal tries to persuade Beth that her view of the situation is too selfish, she believes... (full context)
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"Family" and Love Theme Icon
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Ward tries to soothe his sister. He expresses the desire for her, Cal, and Conrad to be happy. The word triggers her; she lashes out at Ward, sarcastically... (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 to help... (full context)
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Beth, Cal, and, and Conrad go to dinner. Cal is surprised at Beth's attention to their son;... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Beth packs her things. She decides to leave Cal because she resents his pity for her. He wants to talk to her about the... (full context)
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After breakfast, Conrad and Cal go out onto the porch. Cal feels cold, but Conrad is excited about the warmth... (full context)
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After a stunned silence, Cal apologizes for yelling at Conrad. Conrad responds to the contrary; he appreciates his father's decision... (full context)