Discuss Conrad Jarrett's unstable nature in Ordinary People.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Conrad is unstable for a couple of reasons.  Indeed, while things are "going wrong in his life," there are other reasons for this.  While it might seem a bit cliche now, Guest's work is really significant because it speaks to the idea that individuals can recognize pain and suffering in their own lives and do not need to repress or block it out as it not existing.  Part of why Conrad is so unstable is because he and his family lack the vocabulary, the psychological frame of reference, to understand the impact of death on them.  The conformity of the family and the need to "be fine" is almost as traumatic as death, itself.  Guest argues that understanding the psychological dimensions of both death and the personal relationships that govern our lives are extremely important to possessing a sense of contentment in consciousness.  Conrad is unstable because he does not understand the full psychological reach of both death and the relationships in his life.  In particular, this comes to his mother and how he can reach out to her in a time of pain and intense suffering, while understanding that she, herself, might be unreachable.  Her own emotional limitations is something that is experienced at the same time that the issue of death presents itself to Conrad.  This means that while Conrad and the family suffer from the challenges posed by death, there is an added pain and suffering evident in not being able to fully grasp and understand the extent of the emotional dynamics present in the family.  The absence of a frame of psychological reference is what makes Conrad's pain so difficult, something alleviated through talking about his feelings and communicating with the therapist.  It is here where Guest's work is truly profound.