Ordinary People By Judith Guest Ordinary People by Judith Guest is the story of a family having psychological problems, which relate to one another through superficial behaviors. They distort reality and hide their true emotions to reduce or prevent anxiety. The book opens with seventeen year old Conrad, son of upper middle-class Beth and Calvin Jarrett, comes home after eight months in a psychiatric hospital, because he had attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. His mother is a meticulously orderly person who despises him. She does all the right things; attending to Jared’s physical needs, keeping a spotless home, plays golf and bridge with other women in her social circle but in her own words “is an emotional cripple”.
Jared’s father, raised in an orphanage, seems anxious to please everyone. Though a successful tax attorney, he is jumpy around Conrad and according to his wife, drinks too many martinis. Conrad seems consumed with despair. Chalk-faced, hair-hacked Conrad seems bent on preserving the family myth that all is well in the world. His family, after all, “are people of good taste.
They do not discuss a problem in the face of the problem.” Yet, there is not one problem in this family but two Conrad’s suicide and the death by drowning of Conrad’s older brother, Buck. Conrad eventually contacts a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, because he feels the “air is full of flying glass” and wants to feel in control. Their initial sessions together frustrate the psychiatrist because of Conrad’s inability to express his feelings. Conrad’s slow but steady journey towards healing seems the result of catharsis which remove guilt feelings regarding his brother’s death and his family’s denial of that death, plus the “love of a good woman.” There is no doubt that Conrad is consumed with guilt, this guilt gives him feelings of low self-esteem. Survivors of horrible tragedies, such as the Holocaust, frequently express similar feelings of worthlessness.