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Ordinary People

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“Depression is Contagious”

Leo Tolstoy once said, “Happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In essence, all unhappy families have their own unique reasons for feeling so. The extent to which they are unhappy varies as well. By analyzing individual conflict and struggles, the novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest, examines human nature and unique forms of “unhappiness.”

Buck’s death is symbolic of the loss of stability for the Jarrett family. This loss is immediately expressed by Conrad’s clinical depression and attempted suicide. As an adolescent, Conrad was forced to take on the burden of guilt and blame, with no help from Beth. The extreme tragedy, and its psychological implications, so early in his life caused for him to lose all connections with his peers and lose his desire for happiness. Once Conrad began to open up and communicate his feelings with Dr. Berger, he accomplished his first step towards recovery, admittance. His relationship with Jeannine Pratt offered him a relationship where he could talk to help him cope with his feelings. At the end of the novel, Conrad seems as though he has improved, but through the news of Karen’s suicide, when earlier it seemed as though she was improving, shows that appearances can be deceiving.

Unlike Conrad, Beth and Calvin’s issues are those of marital complications. The loss of their son allowed for the surfacing of underlying tensions and unspoken problems. A consistent issue throughout the novel was Calvin and Beth’s inability to agree on a balance of how much they can pry into Conrad’s life. Once arguments arise from simplistic issues concerning family trips, and it becomes apparent that the family has turned inwards as a result of stress



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