The novel Ordinary People by Judith Guest is centered around the events that occur after a tragic death in the Jarrett family, an affluent family living in the suburbs. The Jarrett family is composed of Conrad, Cal, and Beth Jarrett. Conrad is a seventeen year-old high schooler who struggles to live a normal life after the passing of his brother, and he has a difficult time connecting and interacting with his family and peers. Cal is the father of Conrad and Beth’s husband, and he is ceaselessly overprotective of Conrad throughout most of the novel. Beth is the polar opposite of Cal in relation to Conrad as she appears to detest her son and refuses to convey affection towards him. Conrad, Cal, and Beth all boast vastly different personalities from each other, yet they all have one characteristic in common that drastically affects them throughout the story. The three main characters are all shaped by the unforeseen and naturalistic events that occur throughout the story, along with their interactions and relationships with each other and various secondary characters. Naturalism (in the philosophical sense) is the belief that natural laws are the only governing laws of the universe and that there are no spiritual or supernatural powers affecting the world known by mankind.
Naturalism in literature is similar; it is the idea that the environment shaping and determining the actions of characters in a story. Ordinary People is heavily focused on naturalistic events, the biggest of them being the death of Jordan “Buck” Jarrett, the other son of Cal and Beth and Conrad’s brother. Buck was older than Conrad and always finding himself in trouble, but nevertheless Conrad looked up to Buck and saw him as his role model. Around eighteen months before Ordinary People begins the two brothers go on a boating trip and get caught in a terrifyingly destructive storm. Their boat capsized, and after clinging to the overturned vessel for a period of time Buck let go and was pulled under the water, never to be seen again by Conrad or the rest of their family. This uncontrollable event is arguably the most impactful incident that befalls Conrad, Cal, and Beth in the Ordinary People timeline.
The entire family is devastated by Buck’s death, and each member responded to the death in their own fashion. Conrad felt that he was personally to blame for the death of his brother, leading him to attempt suicide by slitting his wrists with a razor blade. Cal and Beth were already devastated by the loss of their first child, and Conrad’s suicide attempt did nothing to help his parents cope with their grief.
It is this incident that produced Cal’s overprotectiveness of his sole surviving child, as well as Beth’s firm impression that Conrad hated her and wanted to see her hurt even more than what she already was. Throughout the story, Cal slowly comes to the realization that Conrad doesn’t require constant oversight to live a safe and functional life. Beth