Jerry’s mother died in the spring after a long battle with cancer. Her death left Jerry feeling a confusing blend of emotions—he was surprised by how angry he felt, and surprised even further to find that his anger left no room for sorrow. In the weeks after his mother’s funeral, Jerry and his father rarely spoke; Jerry’s father moved through their house “like a sleepwalker” and Jerry felt alone and abandoned. Apart from one tearful moment of connection right after the funeral, Jerry and his father never discussed their loss, and quickly settled back into their routines.
This passage serves to clue readers into the turmoil haunting Jerry below his affable exterior. He has a lot of anger within him, and feels deeply alone. Unable to connect with his father or get fully in touch with his own emotions, Jerry is drifting, worried about his place in the world and how to become a man.
Jerry comes home from school to find his father napping on the sofa in the den of their new apartment. Jerry’s father is a pharmacist, and often works odd hours and night shifts, leaving him tired at strange times of day. Jerry’s father senses his son’s presence and wakes up, asking Jerry how his day was. Jerry tells his father about football practice, and then asks his father how his day was. Jerry’s father answers only that his day was “fine.”
Jerry and his father are drowning in pain, sorrow, and anger, and yet dance around one another as if everything is fine. Jerry’s father’s excessive sleeping may be tied to his odd hours, or it may be a result of depression in the wake of losing his wife—either way, it is disorienting for him and for Jerry alike, and creates a dreamlike texture to their relationship.
Jerry, perturbed that every day when he asks his father how his day was his father only answers with “fine,” attempts to dig deeper. He asks his father if there are ever wonderful days or terrible days, and his father answers that his life at the drugstore is “pretty much the same all the time.” Jerry is disappointed to hear this, and when he thinks of his own life turning into an endless succession of days that are just “fine,” he becomes upset. Jerry’s father gets up and starts preparing dinner. Jerry wants to talk to his father more about what it means to live a life, and what the point of it all is, but is afraid of sounding “crazy.”
Jerry is still clearly perturbed by his interaction with the hippie—he is afraid of being “square,” of mindlessly following a routine, and of ending up alone and depressed at the end of it all, just like his father. Jerry wants to connect more deeply with his father discuss these fears, but is too afraid that expressing them will render him “crazy.” Jerry is just as afraid of going against the grain as he is of going with it.
That night, as Jerry gets ready for bed, he looks at himself in the mirror, seeing himself for the first time as the hippie in the Common saw him: “Square Boy.” Jerry wants to “do something” and “be somebody,” but doesn’t know what he wants to do or who he wants to be.
Jerry is afraid to amount to nothing, but at the same time is unsure of who he wants to be, or how he wants to live his life. This tension is creating a chaos with him that will soon be tested in ways he cannot imagine.