What is the role of the grandparents in Ordinary People?

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jeff-hauge eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The grandparents first give further backdrop on why Conrad’s parents are the way they are. Beth is a cold and manipulative woman consumed with appearances because she was obviously raised to be that way. Seeing her around her own parents fleshes her out as a nervous daughter looking for approval set at a very high bar. Cal had the same biography as Jack London, a father that did not claim him and a mother too unstable to provide for him. Neither of these adults have the capacity to provide simple unconditional acceptance. They are shown to be emotionally malnourished and either cannot see the pain Conrad is in (Beth) or have no means of providing for him (Cal).