The American Heritage Dictionary defines life as being: human existence, relationships, or activity in general: real life; everyday life. Over the duration of ones existence, a person may be faced with many difficult situations. These difficulties may include, but are not limited to, such things as defunct relationships with others, poor interpersonal communication, bereavement, and depression. In order to fully overcome such adversities in life, one must be able to make adjustments, and implement them in their everyday lives. The novel Ordinary People, by Judith Guest, demonstrates the ability, as well as inability, of an individual to adapt in order to overcome the exacting circumstances they face, living what is, in essence, nothing more than an ordinary life. These extenuating circumstances can be seen specifically in the novel by means of the poor relationship between Cal and Beth, the uncompromising stubbornness of Beth in regards to her son, and also the recovery of Conrad after his attempted suicide, all of which are eventually dealt with in their own particular ways.
The most exemplary instance of a dysfunctional relationship in Ordinary People is that of Beth and Calvin Jarrett. It is clear from the beginning of the novel that Beth and Cal have serious communication problems. This is mainly due to Beth's unwillingness to discuss the past, although Calvin feels that it is the best way in which to heal the pain felt by their family. This seemingly solvable problem between them, only grows and festers into an irreconcilable rift, because of Beth's inability to adapt to her situation. This rift is unmistakable when Beth states, " I can't stand the way you look at me- to her husband (pp. 234). Her incapability to adapt her life to her surroundings eventually alienates herself not only from her husband, but her son as well. It is her failure to change, at a time when change is required to overcome a difficult situation, which ultimately becomes the collapse of not just her marriage but her parenthood as well.