Forgiveness is the ability to release the mind and heart from all past hurts and failures, all sense of guilt and loss. Judith Guest uses the theme of forgiveness in her novel to establish its importance in a real life family situation. In Ordinary People, the lack of forgiveness detrimentally affects the Jarret Family. The father, Calvin Jarret, finds himself torn between his wife, Beth, and his suicidal son, Conrad. Beth finds herself unable to forgive Cal and Con which results in her leaving them. The most prominent example of how the inability to forgive has detrimental affects on a relationship can be seen between Conrad and Beth.
The importance of forgiveness is so vital that it is even taught by most major religions. Judith Guest is able to vividly capture the destruction that can be created by the inability to forgive. In the novel, Calvin is greatly affected by the lack of forgiveness. As a general rule of forgiveness, one cannot expect to be completely consistent, to always act lovingly, to be totally accepting and tolerant, and always unselfish and fair.
Cal is torn between his wife and his son. He has made every attempt to forgive Conrad. He even looks past Con's mistake in order to help him move on with his life. However, Cal cannot forgive Beth for not loving Con. He feels that Beth is "such a perfectionist" and that "everything had to be perfect" (89).
He eventually forgives her for being a perfectionist stating that "it is chance and not perfection that rules the world" (90). Cal forgives Beth for being a perfectionist but, unfortunately, is unable to forgive her for not loving Con. As a result, a rift is formed in their relationship. Tension grows between them until finally their relationship falls apart and they separate. Subsequently, Cal can't forgive Beth for these reasons. He finds himself alone since she has left him and Conrad. Beth's relationships with Cal and Con are deleterious l affected by the absence of forgiveness.
As Conrad went to the hospital after the boating accident that resulted in his brother's death, he apologized to his mother and father. However, when he was in the hospital for attempting suicide he doesn't apologize, instead, offering the alibi: "I wish I knew why I just don't" (239). Consequently, Beth believes that Conrad made his attempt at suicide "as vicious, as sickening as he could" because he "wanted it to kill " her (237). Beth can't forgive Conrad for this and even though "it hasn't killed her, it has done something terrible to her; something terrible" (240). Beth's relationship with Conrad is ruined because she "can't respond" with love towards him (238). Beth blames Cal for moping around and being depressed, dragging everybody else down with him.
She also blames Cal for worrying about Con and directing all of his attention towards him. She can't forgive Cal for being controlled by Con "even when he's not around, even when he's two thousand miles away". (236) This is an attributing factor to the rift in their relationship. This rift is caused by Beth's lack of forgiveness and remains only because neither party makes an attempt at bridging the gap. Thus, a vicious circle of blame is formed because nobody is willing to forgive.
Conrad is detrimentally affected by his lack of forgiveness towards Beth and himself. He crucifies himself with resentment and guilt. When his brother, Jordan, died he feels guilty and blames himself for "killing him" and "letting him drown" because he hung on, and stayed with the boat instead of doing "something" to help him (223). His sense of guilt fills him with anger and bitterness. By harboring his negative feelings he is making himself hurt more and sabotaging any possible productivity in his life. Con is resentful of Beth because she blames him for Jordan's death.
Con is torn apart because he strives for Beth's forgiveness but feels that he "is never going to be forgiven" (119). Con makes an obvious attempt to forgive Beth when he hugs her. However Beth can't respond with love and she still can't forgive him. He finds that talking to and dealing with Beth is "impossible" (119).
Conrad's resentment towards Beth creates a tension between them that ultimately ruins their relationship. Many ordinary people don't understand the vital importance of forgiveness. These people have a tendency to sulk, that is, look for small neglects and injustices. The Jarret are all guilty of sulking. Calvin blames Beth for not loving Conrad enough.
Beth blames Calvin, for letting himself be controlled by Conrad. She also blames Conrad, for trying to hurt her. Conrad blames Beth for not loving him but more importantly he blames himself for his brother's death. Parents and children must learn that misunderstandings will sometimes occur and they may often have different perceptions of events and behaviors. This doesn't mean that either person is wrong, just that they have different views. Accepting these differences creates more understanding among family members and can help to build greater family strengths.
Judith Guest uses an "ordinary" family to tragically and dramatically illustrate how forgiveness is and essential part of a strong, healthy relationship. Guest's novel, Ordinary People, depicts what happens to the relationships in the Jarret family due to their lack of forgiveness. 326.