The Not So Controversial Elements Of Ordinary People
Ordinary People by Judith Guest is an intriguing novel that has been banned in one school, and challenged in many others for several controversial topics including language, teen suicide, parental conflicts, sex and graphic descriptions. I don’t feel this novel should have any restrictions or censorship because of its importance and value as a work of literature. This novel indeed does have some potentially offensive material, but its reading level is high school, and I feel that by high school, people reading this book will be mature enough to handle serious topics and controversial material. Ordinary People harbors an important message and theme regarding personal re-growth and forgiveness.
Judith Guest’s novel, Ordinary People, follows a high school boy, Conrad, throughout his junior year. We learn that Conrad and his brother Buck were in a boating accident in which Buck dies. Later, Conrad attempts suicide and is hospitalized. The novel’s action begins one month after Conrad returns home from the hospital. Throughout the novel, he and his family struggle with the loss of Buck, Conrad deals with his suicide attempt, and sees a psychiatrist weekly. Conrad’s mother, Beth, damages her relationship with her husband, Calvin. Conrad and Calvin struggle with Beth who is constantly arguing with one or both of them. There are several graphic descriptions of Conrad’s suicide attempt, and a few sex scenes. Foul and harsh language is used in dialogue and in Conrad’s thoughts in the novel as well. All of these topics and areas of the novel have been targeted as reason for censorship in schools around the country. Many parents feel that the use of ‘bad language’ encourages it. Also, the talk and description of sex encourages, even condones such behavior. Some parents have argued
that the graphic descriptions and constant reference to suicide shows acceptance of it, others argue that it is just inappropriate material for children.
I feel that Ordinary People is a wonderful novel holding an important message and theme of personal recovery, forgiveness, and growth. The main character, Conrad, is extremely real. He belongs to an ordinary family that undergoes a series of challenging events, ultimately leading to their healing. The use of adult language in the novel helps to show Conrad’s maturity and shows the potential in the character, Conrad, to be an actual person. Also, the parental conflicts throughout the novel, allow the reader to see background imperfections, and they place a certain amount of credit upon Conrad’s parents for his stress and unhappiness early on. Conrad and Beth, his mother, argue constantly both for pointless and justifiable reasons. As do Conrad’s father, Calvin, and Beth, but the arguments and relationship issues that the family has, add to their characterization.
Sex and graphic sexual references are placed in random order throughout Ordinary People. Conrad has sex with his girlfriend, masturbates, and speaks of his desires every now and then. Although many parents argue this to be offensive and inappropriate, others rebut that it holds extreme value, developing Conrad’s character and tangibility even more. Conrad makes one sexist remark pointing to women as toys to be played with: “…breasts and legs and round-apple asses that (Cal) would like to fit his hands around…” (Guest 137). This has been targeted as a violation of a women’s image, however this is the only part in the entire novel that speaks of women this way.
Teen suicide is a very prominent topic in the novel, Ordinary People. There are several graphic references to Conrad’s suicide attempt. One outstandingly gory
description of blood, bubbling arteries and a slippery blood flooded room provides some potentially offensive material. Constant references to suicide in the novel are shortly referred to as trying to “off myself”. Conrad also speaks of his suicide attempt to his psychiatrist and we see that he thinks about it frequently. The indecent topic is a serious one, but also one that is important to discuss is someone feels so inclined.
Ordinary People is an amazing novel by Judith Guest that tells the story of a struggling teen whom many readers can relate to. Too often readers infer meaning from a novel, when it is simply just a story with real life elements. Ordinary People focuses on teen suicide, contains sexual content and somewhat offensive language. It also focuses on parental conflict, personal re-growth, and healing after a loss. Over half of the challenges made to ban Ordinary People are based upon the prominent topic and graphic descriptions of teen suicide. However, I argue that these elements make the character more real, and give many teens something to relate to, on many levels. Teen suicide is a serious matter that is rarely discussed, and Ordinary People provides a more casual and less intense way to become aware of such topics. Teen suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults ages 15-24. Males are four times more likely to commit suicide then females. Studies have shown that a young adult exposed to suicide is far less likely to consider suicide. Although the goal of Ordinary People was not to provide an outlet for suicide exposure to teens, it does eliminate half of the challenges made to this book.
I feel that Ordinary People is a wonderful novel harboring a superb story of an ordinary young man and his struggles and healing process after suffering several out-of-the ordinary events. I do not think it should be banned or censored in any way because
there wasn’t anything that really bothered or offended me throughout the novel. A small few graphic descriptions of suicide, sex, and parental conflicts were the worst of the story, and they weren’t even that bad. I loved this book, and it showed how a perfectly ordinary family can go through some extreme and intense times and still end up ordinary.