Tyler Ruffin is a first-year master’s student in the Professional Writing program at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He is interested in rhetorical theory, cinema studies, social media, and has a passion for all things technology.
I recently re-watched Ordinary People for maybe the 20th time in my life. I’ve read the book, too, by Judith Guest. As a novel and a film, the story had one of the most profound effects on my life up to this point. It asks the simple question, “Why do bad things happen to people? You just do one wrong thing…” I’ll leave it to you to finish that last sentence.
The novel concerns an upper middle-class family, the Jarretts. The elder son of the family, Buck, is killed in a boating accident. Conrad, the younger of the two sons who survived the accident, is traumatized by survivor guilt. His mother, Beth, has become emotionally detached, while his father Calvin has a crisis of faith. As Conrad experiences an emotional breakdown and seeks help from his psychologist, Dr. Berger, his parents go about life in their altered states of mind. Beth attempts to keep up appearances despite her inner, silent hatred of Conrad, who only reminds her that Buck has died.
Beth is a stoic representation of the refusal to deal with the tragedies and hardships of life. Conrad, on the other hand, eventually embraces his distress. And despite his post-traumatic stress, he ultimately finds the strength to overcome what he has endured. That’s the message I get from Ordinary People: You have more strength than you think you do. It might take some digging, but all you have to do is look for it.
I would say that I’ve had a relatively tough life…in a privileged white boy sort of way, I guess. I don’t claim to have experienced starvation, homelessness, discrimination, crime, or physical violence, but I can say that I’ve not traveled a perfectly charmed road. I’ve lost a lot of things that I once highly valued, and I’m sure all of us know the feeling of having something or someone suddenly and prematurely yanked out of our lives.