A rite of passage hero is a character who changes or matures as a result of experience. In Ordinary People by Judith Guest, Conrad is a rite of passage hero who changes as a result of his recovery journey. This novel deals with the Jarrett family and Conrad s attempted suicide/depression and his stages of recovery. Many people, such as his father and his psychiatrist, Dr. Berger, contribute to his recovery journey. Through many hard steps of life s situations Conrad begins to find his way to complete recovery. Conrad s recovery is seen through various ways; his physical and social improvement and his emotional and mental growth.
In the beginning, Conrad struggles to regain his confidence and to move forward in his physical and social improvements. One of his first and most important of these improvements is his self-confidence in his appearance. When he looks in the mirror he thinks to himself, God, his skin is clear when did that happen? How long has it been since he looked at himself ? He then realizes that he is good-looking and girls might actually like him. This improvement is a step towards two of his other physical and social improvements, he has a desire for friends and he asks out a girl from choir, Jeannine.
A reflection of Conrad s goals list, a list of personal improvements he wanted to make in order to organize his life, states, He is definitely in need. He finds each day as he looks around him that he is achingly lonely. It shows that Conrad is thinking about having friends and realizing the loneliness in not having friends. This is a big step for Conrad and shows he is recovering from the depression. The other item on Conrad s list is girls. Girls are something Conrad tells Berger he hasn t had much experience with but is definitely interested in. Listen, I was wondering. Would you be interested in going out sometime? This is what Conrad says when he takes a big step towards improvement and asks Jeannine out. These three improvements as well as many others show how Conrad is changing and acting as a rite of passage hero throughout the course of the novel.
In this novel Conrad not only changes in physical and social ways but in his emotional and mental growth. The first sign of this growth is when he picks out their Christmas tree and its decorations. Calvin, Conrad s father, notices this sign of growth as he reminisces about a quote Conrad had said last summer at a lunch counter near the hospital. After staring at the menu for ten minutes he had said, You order, okay? I can t decide. Now his mental conditions are improving from his first step of making decisions. Conrad s mental improvements now lead to handling his emotions. Two ways he shows emotional growth are when he fights with his mother Beth and when he deals with his pain and cries. The first of these two happens when Beth is mad because Conrad didn t tell her he quit the swim team. His reaction, I m sure I would have told you if I thought you d give a damn, shows how he is releasing his emotional anger that he has towards his mother. This shows that Conrad is learning to deal with his emotions and let them out which is a crucial step to depression recovery. The second emotional growth is when Conrad deals with his pain and grief when his friend from the hospital, Karen, dies and he cries for the first time. Later on at Dr. Berger s office he is also able to deal with his guilt about Buck s death. Over time he accepts the fact that he is not responsible for Buck s death. After looking back at the past he is lead to an emotional recovery in which he no longer blames himself for Buck s death. As part of this step Conrad also receives freedom when he now stops going to see Dr. Berger. These emotional and mental growths contribute to his recovery and his role as a rite of passage hero.
The basis of this novel, Conrad s recovery, is seen through many changes he experiences as a result of his physical and social improvements and his emotional and mental growth. He attains self- confidence which helps him to move forward and become involved with Jeannine, and this also then relates to his emotions through his making of these decisions. He expresses anger, pain, and grief which is something he was never able to do before. His improvements lead to the image of Conrad at the end of the novel as a person who is a more mature as a result of his efforts to change and grow through experience.