ordinary people analysis

The Authoritarian, the Permissive and the Authoritative
Ordinary People

Parents are perhaps the greatest influences in a person life. They mentor us, shape us and model us into the type of people they would be proud of. This is no different in the movie, Ordinary People which portrays a family of three struggling through a tragedy and its byproducts. The movie highlights the three different parenting styles through the two parents, Beth and Calvin, of Conrad. Furthermore the movie underscores the impact of externals events on parenting styles relating the Person-Situation Controversy to Parenting styles.

Diana Baurind conducted a study in the 1960s which identified the three mains parenting styles; Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative. The Authoritarian parenting style is best describes as demanding, strict and almost harsh. An authoritarian parent wants complete obedience from their child. One the other end of the spectrum, there is the permissive parenting style in which the parents are submissive to their children’s desires and use little punishment (189). In the middle of these two parenting style is the middle ground; Authoritative. An authoritative parent finds the balance between the two extreme parenting styles through control with explanation and openness to different ideas.

Calvin would be described an authoritative parent consistently throughout the movie. Calvin’s father never changed his parenting style and always stays firm but open. He desires his son to get well more than anything yet he understands that his son’s actions are not necessarily what are best for him to become well again. This can be scene when Conrad is discussing the price and schedule of his therapy, a necessity that he does not want but his father insists that he does see the therapist. Mr. Jarrett is the perfect example of an authoritative parent.

On the other hand, Calvin’s mother is not an authoritative parent but rather an ever evolving character, changing her parenting styles to adjust to the situation. She is a person who adjusts her traits and thus her parenting style to the immediate situation. This suggests that as a child, she was not able to develope her personality which has led to a lack of trait stability.

From the flashbacks, the audience can gather that Beth was originally a permissive parent who let her children, mostly Buck, do as they desire. For example, in one of Conrad’s flashbacks he hears the voices of his mother and brother talking and laughing together. Buck admits to his mother that he was in fact drinking and Beth simply responds with a laugh. When Beth and Calvin are talking about vacation, Beth refers to them going to where Buck wanted to go. Beth before Buck’s death was a permissive parent and changed to an authoritarian parent post Buck’s death and Conrad’s attempted suicide. Her authoritarian parenting style is her reaction to Buck’s death. She goes from one extreme of parenting to another reminiscent of overcorrecting. Beth changes her parenting style in the hopes to avoid another death which in her mind was her fault because of her parenting style.

She wants to control what she did not before in hopes in keep a sense of normality with security. She takes her authoritarian parenting style to an extreme as seen in the dining room scene. Conrad simply asks if he can help set the table but Beth firmly tell him to not set the table and instead go clean his room. She is not letting Conrad get his way as she did pre-accident. She is overcompensating for her original parenting style. Her authoritative parenting style is seen clearly again during the Jarrett’s family portrait. Calvin want a picture of her and Conrad together. She quickly rejects this idea multiple times, not letting her husband or son get their way. The audience does not know if this is an attempt at distancing herself from Conrad so she will not feel the pain she did when she was grieving or if this simply another attempt at proving her control. However throughout the movie her attempts at been authoritarian does nothing to make Conrad’s situation any better and only alienates herself from the family.

Eventually her authoritarian style of parents fails at her goal to make her life return to normal or prevent any more downfalls in her family; on much smaller scale Conrad’s quitting the swim team.

In response to her failure, she becomes the fourth parenting style, uninvolved style of parenting. This parenting style is just as it is described; uninvolved. She withdraws from the family and fails to even acknowledge Conrad at times. This parenting style is her response to the inefficiency of the authoritarian parenting style. She simply gives up and resolved that no way she can help her son or stop the bad events from happenings. She no longer tries to be a parent. This can be seen in the scene when Conrad tries to hug his mother. She merely looks at him catatonically and does not hug him back. This confrontation leaves Conrad sad but this with the realization that his mother no longer cares. This is the last parenting style and trait transformation Beth goes through.

Beth and Calvin juxtapose each other within the film. Their common point of interest, Conrad brings them together yet it also highlights the differences in parent styles. Beth’s transformations highlights the not only do people’s traits change for that situation but this entire style of parenting can as well. “Social psychologists have assumed, albeit without much evidence that [that at any moment the immediate situation powerfully influence a person’s behavior] especially so when a ‘strong situation’ makes clear demands. (535)” Eventually their different parenting styles drive them away from each other because they cannot function together with different parenting styles.

Ordinary People applies the Person-Situation controversy, the controversy over whether the situation influences a person’s personality or if a personality effects a situation to the four different parenting styles. It affirms the parenting styles can change like personality if the person does not have firm personality stability. Nothing is ever set in stone when it comes to humans. Humans are ever changing from our personalities to our parenting styles to their favorite ice cream.

Works Cited
Myers, David G. Psychology. New York: Worth, 2004. Print.
Ordinary People. Dir. Robert Redford. Perf. Timothy Hutton and Judd Hirsch. Paramount Pictures, 1980. DVD.

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