The Graduate (novel)
First edition cover
|Publisher||New American Library|
|Followed by||Home School|
The Graduate is a 1963 novella by Charles Webb, who wrote it shortly after graduating from Williams College. It tells the story of Benjamin Braddock, who, while pondering his future after his graduation, has an affair with the older Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's business partner.
It was adapted into the highly successful 1967 movie The Graduate, directed by Mike Nichols and with Dustin Hoffman in the title role. Webb has stated he never felt comfortable with the attention the movie brought him because he felt it distracted from his status as a serious artist. He did not receive any royalties from the film and has stated he is glad it happened that way.
On the episode of the AMC television show Movies That Shook the World devoted to the film adaptation, Webb revealed the identity of the real-life inspiration for Mrs. Robinson: Jane Erickson (exact spelling unknown), the wife of an associate of Webb's father. However, that was the extent of any similarity with the novel; Webb denied having a relationship with her.
A sequel titled Home School, which takes place ten years after the ending of the first novel, was published by Hutchinson in June 2007.
The book's creation serves as the centerpiece of the 2005 film Rumor Has It....
In California, June 1962, Benjamin Braddock, about to be 21 years old, has recently graduated from a small Eastern college. He has won a scholarship to continue his education as an award of the Frank Helpingham and has returned home to Pasadena. By eight o’clock, most of the guests arrived because a party was celebrating his graduation at his parents' house. Everyone is thrilled about his numerous academic and athletic achievements. With having some small identity crisis, Benjamin, visibly uncomfortable as his parents deliver accolades and neighborhood friends ask him about his future plans, evades those who try to congratulate him.
At the insistence of the neglected wife of his father’s law partner, he drives Mrs. Robinson home, because her husband took the car, and she doesn’t know how to drive as far as she is concerned. Once at the house, he is coerced inside and has a drink in the Sun Porch. They talk for a time and Mrs. Robinson attempts to seduce him, which she denies. She invites him up to Elaine's room to see her portrait, and then after she tells Benjamin to bring her purse up, she comes back into the room naked. Her initial attempt at an affair is rebuffed and Benjamin quickly goes downstairs as he hears Mr. Robinson arriving home. Benjamin tells him that he only brought Mrs. Robinson home. Mr. Robinson doesn't suspect anything, and begins counseling Benjamin for a moment—even suggesting that Benjamin should give his daughter a call the next Saturday when she returns from Berkeley.
During the next week, on Benjamin’s 21st birthday, he walks around, thinking about his life. When he returns, his mother mentions that Elaine wouldn’t return on a Saturday because she has to stay up in Berkeley for summer school. Late in the afternoon, around the swimming pool in the backyard, Benjamin is presented with a diving suit from his parents, and shows all the people how he dives in a scuba demonstration. In the morning, still even more discouraged, Benjamin announces his intention to go on a road trip in order to cast off the societal expectations to spend his life “amongst the common people.”
The trip lasted just less than three weeks. It was late one night when Benjamin returned, and told his parents that he was fighting a fire somewhere and talk to a lot of different people. Two days later, after he got home from the trip, he decided to begin his affair with Mrs. Robinson. He goes to the Hotel Taft and wanders around the lobby, through the Main Ballroom to the Verandah Room, where he has a drink for a few minutes. Then he contacts Mrs. Robinson in the phone booth and organizes a tryst before she arrived exactly an hour later. Thus they begin to spend the night in their relationship from which she refers to his possible feelings of inadequacy.
In mid-September, as Benjamin is no longer eligible for the Frank Helpingham Award Scholarship, he spends the remainder of the day drifting around in the pool by day, purposefully neglecting to select a graduate school, and seeing Mrs. Robinson at the hotel by night. He discovers that they have nothing to talk about. However, after he pesters her one evening, Mrs. Robinson reveals that she is in a loveless marriage, because in the 1940s, she errantly became pregnant with her daughter, Elaine, and married to avoid scandal.
When Elaine comes down from Berkeley, just about several days later, the subject is brought up again. Though he promises Mrs. Robinson he will not date her daughter, his parents force his hand and says that unless he asks her out, they are going to invite the Robinsons over for a dinner party. Benjamin decides that taking Elaine out might be far less awkward than a family dinner, so he picks her up that night, and intentionally sabotages his first date with her. He takes her to two clubs like the “Renaissance”, and the “Interior” where they dance, and then to a strip show. Finally after Elaine runs out of the strip club in tears, Benjamin has a change of heart, realizes how rude he was to her, and discovers that Elaine is someone he is comfortable with. A relationship ensues.
Before their date was over, they visited the Hotel Taft, where he always met with Mrs. Robinson. When everyone recognizes Benjamin, he explains to Elaine that he had an affair with an older married woman with a husband and a son, and doesn't tell her who the woman is, but agrees to ask her out again the next day. The next morning, Benjamin had just arrived upon the Robinsons’ house. When Mrs. Robinson was in the car as he drives down block, she threatens that she will expose their relationship to Elaine to destroy any chances with her if he ever sees her again. This threat which causes Benjamin to set himself out of the car, raced back to the house, and upstairs to Elaine’s room to get her. As it was, he had no time. But trying to stave off Mrs. Robinson, he rashly decides to tell Elaine everything that it wasn't just some woman with a husband and a son. Upsetting over hearing about his tryst with her mother after knowing the expressions that Mrs. Robinson is the older woman, Elaine furiously throws Benjamin out of the house, and wants nothing to do with him and returns to Berkeley. Benjamin stayed for several weeks at home, then after that for nearly a month, and Christmas had passed and the New Year of 1963 had started, he decided to marry Elaine.
On the morning after he has made his decision, Benjamin goes to Berkeley. He moves into a rooming house near Elaine’s dormitory and has sold his car. After a week of trying unsuccessfully to talk to Elaine he meets her at the bus station on a Saturday afternoon. Elaine is uneasy in his presence and tells him she has started dating another man named Carl Smith, a medical student. Twice during the next week, Elaine comes by the rooming house to talk to Benjamin about what he’s doing in town; she accuses him of taking advantage of her mother’s drunken state and raping her, refusing to believe that it was her mother who initiated the affair. After causing one too many disturbances a number of tenants come upstairs and gather behind the landlord in the doorway before a police officer arrives to question Benjamin's presence, but takes his word that there won’t be any more trouble. Benjamin is ordered by the landlord to leave the rooming house within a week. Elaine realizes her mother was lying, she makes him promise that he won’t leave Berkeley until he has any definite plans.
Several days later, Elaine comes back in the middle of the night. When Benjamin asks her about marriage, she is concerned with her future about graduating from college and her relationship with her parents if she continues to see him. Benjamin receives a telegram from Mrs. Robinson, telling him to get out of town immediately. Benjamin and Elaine discuss his proposal and Carl Smith’s, which she has already accepted.
The next day Elaine comes over with a letter from her father, who doesn't want her to marry Benjamin. Mr. Robinson arrives the next morning, with the knowledge of his wife’s affair and meets Benjamin. He says he is divorcing his wife and terminating his partnership with Mr. Braddock. Then he warns him not to get close to Elaine again, otherwise he will prosecute him. He forces his daughter to drop out of school and takes her away.
Benjamin's father arrives the following day and wants to take him back home to see a psychiatrist. Benjamin explains the details of his affair and is told that both families are torn apart over what has happened. While Mr. Braddock is packing the suitcases, Benjamin slips out without his father noticing. At Elaine’s dormitory he receives a letter from her refusing his proposal, because of her father's anger. Benjamin returns to Pasadena, and forces himself into the Robinsons' home but encounters Mrs. Robinson. She calls the police and claims that a man has broken into their house. He escapes from the house and returns to Berkeley to find Elaine’s location himself.
Benjamin lands at San Francisco. He finds Carl’s house in the directory and heads over. There he finds a letter and learns that Carl will marry Elaine at the First Presbyterian Church on Allen Street, in Santa Barbara. Benjamin takes a plane to Santa Barbara and finds the church, where the ceremony is already taking place. Watching the ceremony, he finally sees Elaine coming down the aisle. Benjamin yells Elaine’s name, interrupting the ceremony. He runs downstairs to the sanctuary to get her out of the church, grabbing a large crucifix and swinging it to keep the others away. He drops it and grabs Elaine, and they flee to a bus stop, where they ride off.
John Reid produced a play in 2000, adapted from the original novel and the movie, which was a hit both in London's West End and on Broadway and has toured the United States. There is a Brazilian version adapted by Miguel Falabella. Several actresses have starred as Mrs. Robinson, including Kathleen Turner, Lorraine Bracco, Jerry Hall, Amanda Donohoe, Morgan Fairchild, Anne Archer, Vera Fischer and Linda Gray. The Broadway production in 2002 starred Kathleen Turner, Jason Biggs, and Alicia Silverstone.
The stage production adds several scenes that are not in the novel or the film. It also uses songs by Simon & Garfunkel not used in the film, such as "Baby Driver" as well as music from other popular musicians from the era such as The Byrds and The Beach Boys.
In Home School Ben and Elaine, now married and living in Westchester County, are fighting to allow for their child to be homeschooled. They turn to Mrs. Robinson to help them. The novel is set in the 1970s. In real life Webb himself had fought to have his boys homeschooled. The poorly-received sequel was written about 40 years after the original book.