Ordinary People


Judith Guest

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Themes and Colors
Mental Disorder Theme Icon
Fate vs. Responsibility Theme Icon
"Family" and Love Theme Icon
Body/Mind Duality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Ordinary People, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Mental Disorder

Ordinary People explores, expands, and complicates the idea of what it means to suffer from mental disorder. At first glance, Conrad seems to represent a typical understanding of mental disorder. Having lost his brother in a sailing accident and blaming himself for the outcome, Conrad attempts suicide and is committed to a mental hospital. Even after his release he continues to consult Dr. Berger, a therapist. Conrad's main task (which is arguably the central…

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Fate vs. Responsibility

The habits and behaviors of many of the characters in Ordinary People are largely motivated by the desire to control their world. From the moment he meets her, Cal recognizes Beth as a decisive go-getter: "I knew when you aced Ray on that first serve," she recalls, "I was going to marry you and that was all there was to it." Her obsessive cleanliness and general concern for keeping up appearances stem from the same…

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"Family" and Love

The world of Ordinary People is filled with groups of people. Conrad is a member of his swimming team and choir. Cal spends much of his day immersed in business with co-workers. Beth is responsible for organizing activities at her country club. All of the Jarretts are related by blood, of course, and Beth's immediate and extended family members also enjoy a significant presence in the novel. But there are varying degrees of intimacy between…

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Body/Mind Duality

For Conrad (and many of the other characters in the novel), there is a struggle to reconcile physical sensations with mental convictions. When achieved, that reconciliation forms the basis of recovery and well-being. As Berger repeatedly warns Conrad, "The body never lies." Conrad and his family members are often tangled up in their own thoughts, blaming themselves for ideas they cling to, or worrying about what others may think of them. Yet in many cases…

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