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The significance of the title “Ordinary People” is that it is ironic because there are not ordinary people in the book. It does not correspond with the novel itself. As defined in Webster’s Dictionary, ordinary means usual, common, or normal. To most people, this is what they think they are. However, in the book being unordinary is common for most of the characters. The author of this book, Judith Guest, probably titled this book “Ordinary People” to make readers ask themselves, “What is ordinary? Am I ordinary?”
The title describes the book as being ordinary when the characters are really unusual. For example, most teenagers do not try to commit suicide. However, in this book, Conrad Jarett tries to kill himself. He attempts suicide because he is depressed about his older brother’s death. He lost his brother in a boating accident and he blames himself for his death. He believes that he could have prevented the accident by coming in from the sea when the waters began to get rough. However, there was nothing that Conrad could have done to prevent the boat from capsizing. His attempt to commit suicide is one of the things that makes him unordinary from normal teenagers.
In the real world, many teenagers attempt suicide. But, this is not ordinary. It is unusual for a teenager to attempt or commit suicide. Society does not look at this sort of behavior as ordinary. If a teenager does attempt suicide, they are usually seeking attention and looking for pity. As a result of these actions, they are seen as having some sort of mental incapacity and are treated for it. Therefore, this is not ordinary and Conrad was not either.
Another character in this book who is not ordinary is Beth Jarett, Conrad’s mother. Conrad feels as if she does not love him. She hardly talks to him. She also treats him as if he does not belong in the family, like a stranger. For example, in one part of the book, Conrad bends over to hug his mother and she just sits there and does not hug him back. In another part, his father wants to take a picture of Conrad and his mother together, but she suggests that she take a picture of all the men instead. This incident makes Conrad feel as if his mother does not like him. Beth Jarett does not act like an ‘ordinary’ mother.
An ordinary mother does not act like Beth. An ordinary mother would show affection for her son even if he tried to commit suicide. As a matter of fact, a mother would show even more affection and love if her son tried to kill himself. Beth does not show the type of affection that an ordinary mother would show towards her own children.
Not showing affection is not the only thing that makes Beth unordinary. At the end of the novel, Calvin, Conrad’s father, tells Beth that he is not sure if he loves her the way he used to anymore. Beth has no reaction. Instead of talking with him and trying to find out why he feels this way, she silently walks away. She goes up to her bedroom and packs her bags. In the morning she leaves for Houston, to her brother’s house while Conrad is still sleeping. She does not even say good-bye to him. An ordinary mother would not abandon her family like Beth does. Instead, an ordinary mother would try to fix the problems in her family.
In conclusion, the book “Ordinary People” has nothing to do with ‘ordinary people.’ The title does not correspond to the description that the author has given it, which is ordinary. The examples given show how ironic the title of the book is in relation to the book itself.
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Lake Forest, Illinois, English-language films, Ordinary People, Beth Greene
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