Ordinary People

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The accidental death of one of 2 sons brings a family to crisis and disintegration.
Curriculet Details
68 Questions
80 Annotations
3 Quizzes

This free digital curriculum for high school students contains interactive videos exploring characterization and flashbacks, as well as annotations describing bildungsroman, archetypes, and chiasmus. Students will explore the themes of lack of communication and the inability to avoid blame. The Common Core aligned questions, answers, and quizzes in this free online unit will increase student engagement in the book while supporting reading comprehension.

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Chapter 1

Before reading it is important to point out the Define feature. Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up? 
It is unlcear why the narrator feels anxious and has this anxiety. You will need to pay particular attention to why he feels this way, and if he changes throughout the story. View the short clip below to learn more about characterization.  (This annotation contains a video)
What tone does the author use to capture the reader's interest?  
Where do you think the narrator, Conrad, is at this point in the story? Why do you think this? Use evidence from the text to support your answer.  
Think about what the narrator is questioning here. What does he mean by "razor-blade bad" 
Does this statement indicates that he is not like everyone else? And if so, why is he so different? Pay attention to his characteristics and how they may differ from other characters in the story. 
Think about why Conrad "has taken to reading bumper stickers." What do the bumper stickers provide or mean for others as well as for Conrad? 
Before you continue reading the rest of the story, watch the short clip on why Judith Guest, the author, decided to write this story.  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 2

Watch the video clip below to refresh your memory on direct and indirect characterization.  (This annotation contains a video)
Calvin makes a really interesting point. He states that "nobody's role is simple." Think about how this statement reflects a certain theme in the story, and more importantly how it reflects your own life. 
After viewing the clip in the annotation above, give an example of direct characterization and indirect characterization from the text so far. 
It seems as if childhood innocence is fading away and the realities of adulthood are becoming the present.  
Use the Define feature and read the definition for Evangelical. Which of the following words is an opposite of Evangelical as it is used here? 
Here is what the book Conrad is reading for school looks like.  (This annotation contains an image)
Explain the metaphor that is used to describe Dr. Crawford. 
In literature when an author bases his or her plot on the growth of a character it is called bildungsroman. Stories like "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", "The Catcher in the Rye", and the movie "The Blindside" all incorporate this literary device. Watch the video below to understand the importance of this term and how it is applied in literature.  (This annotation contains a video)

Chapter 3

Using evidence from the text and lyrics from Pink's song, how is Conrad his own worst enemy? And, why does he compare his room to an enemy?  
Read part of Pink's lyrics to her song "Don't Let Me Get Me", and see how this could possibly relate to Conrad. "Everyday I fight a war against the mirror. I can't take the person starin' back at me. I'm a hazard to myself. Don't let me get me. I'm my own worst enemy. Its bad when you annoy yourself. So irritating. Don't wanna be my friend no more. I wanna be somebody else."  
We can infer that Conrad comes from a(n) 
Jude Fawley is the main character in "Jude the Obscure."  
How does Miss Mellon's question about the main character relate to Conrad's current internal conflict? 
The author writes the novel as though the reader is with Conrad experiencing the events as they occur. The author uses the literary technique stream of consciousness to emphasize the character's emotions. Steam of consciousness is when a character's thoughts, feelings, and reactions are depicted in a continuous flow uninterrupted by objective description or conventional dialogue. View the clip below to learn about the importance of this device.  (This annotation contains a video)
Here is the song that makes Conrad relax himself.  (This annotation contains a video)
What does Conrad hope to achieve by lying to his mother? 

Chapter 4

How is the author juxtaposing the dark nature of "ordinary" life with the description of Conrad's mother? Think about how Guest describes Beth's actions, reactions, as well as her demeanor and compare/contrast that to what is really going on in the characters' minds (Conrad and Calvin). 
View the clip on a text's structure. Think about how this story is told and what point of view each chapter is told from.  (This annotation contains a video)
How do Calvin and his wife differ in how they cope with Conrad's situation?  
Think about what the answer to the above question tells us about Calvin's and Beth's character and how they approach the dark side of the realities of life. 
So has something happened prior to Conrad's incident? This may explain why Conrad is depressed and why his parents are disconnected. Keep reading to find out. 
Jordan died. This could be why the family seems to be disconnected. Are they all coping with Jordan's death in different ways? 
Critics of the book have stated that Guest uses the flashbacks to show how she is interested in the moment of experience. Humans always undergo moments of experience, and we do not understand it until we go back and reflect on those experiences.  
What are your thoughts about the above annotation? Do you think the present is a blur until it has become the past? 

Chapter 5

Explain why Conrad would feel "strangled" by seeing the small white business card and what it says. How does this incident expose Conrad's internal conflict?  
Consider the use of imagery in the highlighted text. What can you assert is the author's tone?  
How does the author's use of the archetype of Conrad (the lost soul/troubled youth) impact the overall meaning of the story? 
Watch the video below to learn about a literary device used in stories called an archetype, and see if you can find any in this text.  (This annotation contains a video)
We are finally introduced to how Conrad's brother died. Think about how this incident affected Conrad. How would it affect you? 
Why is that poor taste? Is it not natural to be grateful that you did not die? We see a lot of guilt fogging Conrad's mind. 
What is an example of indirect characterization from the highlighted text? 

Chapter 6

What can be inferred from the highlighted text especially in regards to how husband and wife perceive each other?  
The book was published in 1976. During this time, many professions, including legal professions, were male-dominated.  
What does the word loss mean in this selection? How does this contribute to the overall meaning of the text? 

Chapter 7

How does Karen's statement mimic Conrad's mother's feelings especially when it comes to Conrad's father?  
Is Conrad really trying? If he is, then why is he getting defensive with Karen? Pay close attention to how he tries to cope with his issues.  
How does the structure of the paragraph (Conrad's stream of consciousness) contribute to the overall meaning of the text? Cite specific evidence.  

Chapter 8

What words or phrases best help define what triviality means in this selection? 
In this time period, blitzed was the connotative word for being drunk. 
Use the Define feature and read the definition for forbidding. Which of the following words is a synonym of forbidding as it is used here? 
We can see how uncomfortable Beth is in regards to talking about her son's situation. Is the drinking causing Calvin to reveal too much or does he find comfort in discussing these issues?  
What can be inferred from the highlighted text? 
Maybe Calvin has turned to alcohol to numb his pain.  

Chapter 9

The smoking lounge at school dates the text to the 70s where this was socially acceptable in most, if not all institutions.  
How does the author use punctuation or lack thereof to visually represent the content of the selection? 
The idea of changing perspective is also seen in Robin William's film "Dead Poets Society" where he encourages his students to see beyond the norm and to experience all life can bring. Below is the movie trailer to get a better idea of the story's plot.  (This annotation contains a video)
At least the author gives Conrad a little sense of humor.  
The john is a connotative word for bathroom.  

Chapter 10

We have seen words like ritual and trivial being used in the text. Pay attention to what word choices the author uses to connect to the theme of her book as well as the title of her book, "Ordinary People."  
Do you think it is a wise decision for Conrad to quit swimming? Is he messing up his life? Explain your answer using evidence from the text. 

Chapter 11

"Ann Landers" was the pen name of advice columnist Ruth Crowley. She wrote an advice column for the Chicago Sun-Times. The "Ask Ann Landers" feature was a syndicated advice column for 56 years in newspapers across North America.  (This annotation contains an image)
That is interesting because both Calvin and Conrad are searching for their "identity" or what they think they should be. 
Explain how this statement may foreshadow certain events in the upcoming chapters.  
Do people fake it until they make it? Do people wear masks to hide behind the realities of truth? These are things to think about as you continue to read and get to know the characters better. 
Chapters 1-11 Quiz 

Chapter 12

Think about the following questions as you continue to read: Do you believe Conrad when he says he quit because "it was a bore"? Why does he lie to his friend, and what is the real reason for not sticking it out with swimming? 
When people push others too much, does it cause them to react in a way that is not normal? Think about how you react when your parents, coach, teacher, etc. push you when you feel you have reached your highest potential? 
Interesting. Is she related to him? 
The highlighted text exemplifies which of the following literary terms? 
Even when you go through something so tragic that it changes your life, it does not necessarily change your surroundings. It is now up to you to reconnect with that environment. It seems this is the first time Conrad notices everything is the same as before the accident. 

Chapter 13

What event shows Conrad gaining more control?  
What does this sentiment let us know about Calvin? 
What news does Conrad's mom want him to tell? 
Again we see Beth more concerned with her image than her son's feelings. 
Why do you think Beth did not visit her own son when he was in the hospital? 
How does the author's choice of dialogue provide a contextual foundation for the story? In other words, what does this conversation reveal about the characters and the main conflict in the text? Cite specific examples to support your claim.  
According to Conrad, how does his mom feel about him? 
View the video below to refresh your memory about motifs.  (This annotation contains a video)
How does the motif of the snow further develop one of the story's emerging themes? Provide evidence to support the claim.  

Chapter 14

Do you think this is all in his mind? When people are self-conscious about something, they can be paranoid that others will notice too. Or is he justified in his thoughts? Think about this as you continue to read. 
We finally see Conrad say these words out loud. Is this a breakthrough for him? 
According to Conrad, who is the one that cannot forgive? 
Even though Beth is having a hard time forgiving Conrad (in his eyes), Berger makes an interesting point by telling Conrad to forgive himself. If continues to feel guilt and feel like the horrible son, he will never be able to move on from his past.  
What are two central ideas/topics developed within this chapter? Cite specific evidence from the text to support assertions. 

Chapter 15

How is Cal's statement considered a pun? 
View the video below to learn how Grandmother's statement is a pun. (This annotation contains a link)
The tone of the chapter goes from          to          . 
Guest allows us to see Beth's and Calvin's point of view in regards to the grieving process. From your perspective, how are things really? Is Beth accurate in what she says about Calvin, or is Calvin accurate in what he says about Beth? Use the text to support your reasoning.  

Chapter 16

Use the Define feature and read the definition for the word pigeonhole. Create a sentence of your own using the word pigeonhole the same way it is being used in the text. 
Here is a picture of a Karmann Ghia. (This annotation contains an image)
Here we see Conrad admit that the pressure of being someone he may not be for his parents is troublesome and it gives him anxiety. Do you think this prolongs his healing process? 
Conrad being aware of his interests in females indicates  

Chapter 17

Learn more about the importance of flashbacks by watching this short video.  (This annotation contains a video)
Speculate why the author chooses to use flashback throughout the text. How does this work to add to the meaning of the text as a whole? 
Explain Calvin's description of Beth. Based on what you know about her from the text, do you agree or disagree with this comparison?  

Chapter 18

Interesting questions. They seem to fit for this book as well. Why would Guest include these questions in her text? 
What does Jeannine say that hits home for Conrad? 
What does Conrad mean by this statement? Do you agree or disagree? Is he just making excuses? Explain your answer using examples from the text.  
Asking Jeannine out is a big step for Conrad. Do you think he will regress at all or is he heading in the right direction? 

Chapter 19

According to an online commentary on "Ordinary People", "the structure of "Ordinary People" is in part a chiasmus, flipping between Conrad and Calvin showing how Conrad gets better against the backdrop of Calvin's marriage in decline. There is also a smaller chiasmus occurring between Calvin and Ray, as seen in chapter 19. Seven years previously, Ray and his wife had nearly ended their marriage after Ray had an affair with one of the office secretaries. At the time, Calvin had acted as a counselor to Ray in an attempt to help him and his wife mend the situation. In Chapter 19, the roles have reversed: Ray is now a type of marriage counselor working to help Calvin better his own situation." 
Here is a video about chiasmus used in literature.  (This annotation contains a video)
Is Ray's situation with his daughter leaving different than Calvin's situation with Conrad? Yes, children leave and grow up, but is Calvin justified in worrying about and holding on to Conrad more than most parents? Explain your reasoning.  
It seems as if roles have reversed here. Calvin was once there for Ray when his marriage was in disarray. Does Ray's talk with Calvin possible foreshadow something about his marriage? Pay attention to this as the story continues.  

Chapter 20

What mood best represents Conrad at this point in the story? 
There are insinuations that Jeannie has many male suitors. How does this make Conrad feel? How would you feel? 
What is inferred from the highlighted text? 
Here we see a reference to Calvin saying earlier in the book how life is one accident. 

Chapter 21

We begin see the pain that Calvin has been agonizing over for several years.  
What internal conflict affects Calvin's ability to heal properly?   

Chapter 22

Another big step for Conrad is going to the swim meet. He is starting to "feel" again. Is Jeannie the cure for Conrad? 
Why does Conrad hit Stillman? 
Yes, Conrad allowed Stillman to get the best of him, but many people may argue that Stillman had it coming. What are your thoughts? Is Conrad justified in his actions? Is he regressing? Things to think about as you continue to read. 
Chapters 12-22 Quiz  

Chapter 23

What can be inferred from the use of this statement? How does this impact your understanding of the text and its major theme? 
The guilt of hurting Stillman weighs on him. 
It is interesting to see his father not overreact and actually not worry about Conrad's fight. Do you think there is a reason behind this reaction?  
Do you believe Guest is favoring one parent over the other based on how she writes the description of the characters? Or is it because we "hear" the inner thoughts of the characters we begin to pass judgments? Explain your reasoning.  

Chapter 24

Conrad makes a great point here. Are teenagers who do everything and get all good grades overprogrammed? But again in society today, if you do not get all A's and have several extracurriculars, will college and society accept you? Something to think about. 
Without changing the meaning of the sentence, what word can best be used to replace the word furtive? 
For once Conrad can be the one to console another. Again, a great step towards his healing. 

Chapter 25

Read John Donne's poem "No Man is an Island" and see how it relates to certain characters in the book. 'No Man is an Island' No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.  
That may be true, but does that justify her for being so cold and disconnected? Think about how you feel towards Beth and how she reacts to the other characters.  
It is surprising to hear that Beth did not cry at her own son's funeral. Did she have to be strong because she could not count on Calvin perhaps?  
Choose a major character from the text and explain how John Donne's poem relates to what he or she is going through. Use evidence from the text to support your reasoning. 
Here is an image of an Appaloosa.  (This annotation contains an image)

Chapter 26

What inferential analysis about Conrad's sentiment can be drawn from the text? How does his statement reflect a major theme of the text? Cite specific evidence to support claim(s). 
What tone does the author use in this selection?  
Karen is the girl Conrad met at the hospital. She is the one he met with a few months ago. Think about how this news will affect him and his progress. 
After Conrad reads this news, Conrad drifts in and out of dreams. His dreams, memories, and past experiences are all combined together. Think about what this does for the reader, and why Guest chose to structure this chapter in this way. 
In this passage, Guest categorizes two types of people being the nuts and the ordinary people. How does this categorization add meaning to the text? What point is Guest trying to make?  
Conrad calling his doctor shows his great maturity and progress in his healing process. 

Chapter 27

For what does Conrad blame himself? 
How does the author's use of self-preservation throughout the text serve to deepen your understanding of the text? 
Berger is letting Conrad know that it is important to connect to your feelings and understand that pain is normal. It is the guilt and living up to his parents' expectations that is consuming his mind. 
By having Karen commit suicide, Guest reminders readers that  
It is as if Conrad cannot trust himself. Is he regressing or he is just feeling paranoid?  
What character do you think is guilty of "reduction of feeling"? Explain your reasoning.  

Chapter 28

Calvin is including Conrad as part of the vacation. Pay attention to how this affects Beth's mood. 
Explain why Beth reacts to Calvin bringing up Conrad into the conversation in this manner. What is the point she is trying to get across to Calvin? 
Is their marriage at the breaking point? Does he not want to the see the truth that his marriage is probably going to end? 
What mood is established in the scene where Beth and Calvin are arguing?  

Chapter 29

Explain the meaning of Hemingway's statement, "Never confuse movement with action." How does this relate to Beth's situation and Calvin's situation? 
No one is perfect and especially not perfect all of the time. People who try to be perfect will fail because they are human, and that is okay. 

Chapter 30

It seems as if their relationship has taken a new turn. Maybe Jeannie was the answer to his progression.  
Even if Jeannie did not experience the aftermath of attempted suicide, how does her past help her relate to Conrad? 

Chapter 31

Were your predictions about Calvin and Beth right? Beth does decide to leave Calvin. 
Why do you believe Beth leaves? Is it because of Calvin and his desire to talk things out? Is it her own personal demons? Explain your reasoning.  
Clark Kent is a reference to the main character in the "Superman" series.  
Is there a such thing as a perfect marriage, a "fairy-tale" marriage? People are human and they will fight, they will argue.  
It is interesting to hear Calvin say how he never worried about Conrad. In Conrad's sessions with Berger, he constantly felt that he did not live up to Buck and how his parents felt about him. 
Make a prediction. What will happen to the Jarrett family? Explain your reasoning.  


Earlier in the text you were introduced to the literary device called bildungsroman. Explain how "Ordinary People" fits the definition of this literary device. Use evidence from the text to support your answer. 
Chapters 23-31 Quiz