Author: Charles Webb
Charles Webb's The Graduate, published in 1963, was a success for the young American writer, a sly
and provocative first novel that is often forgotten in the shadow of Mike Nichols' sensational 1967 film and,
more recently, an attention-grabbing stage adaptation in London with Kathleen Turner, then Jerry Hall as
Mrs. Robinson. Among other things, Webb's novel is a book of its time, written when young Americans
were beginning to question, for the first time, the materialistic values that the postwar culture had taught
them. Its hero is worldly yet naive, but that won't last for long.The novel dramatizes the post-graduate
blues of Benjamin Braddock, an appealing young man of great promise who would seem to have
everything going for him. Returning to his parents' home after graduation to ponder his future in the real
world, he is depressed. The only thing that rallies him is the attention of Mrs. Robinson, the bored but
attractive wife of his father's law partner. Mrs. Robinson makes a play for Benjamin, and he responds.
Their affair is far from passionate but it is intense. It continues until Benjamin rediscovers the Robinsons'
beautiful daughter Elaine. He falls in love with her but Mrs. Robinson, in a jealous rage, destroys the
relationship by telling her daughter of her affair with Benjamin. He is undeterred, following Elaine and
forcing her to acknowledge him even as she prepares to marry someone else. For the first time, it seems,
Benjamin knows what he wants, and he pursues her right to the altar.The Graduate, for all its crackling
humor and addled romance, is also a scathing look at how vacuous and materialistic middle-class
American life had become in the middle of the 20th century. What Benjamin does not want to be, it
seems, is what is all around him—his parents, their friends, their things, their values. He is a fascinating
character, an attractive young man who seems to be unconnected to his own generation, a carefully
tended boy who wants to become a man but does not know how. The wry insight of Webb's The
Graduate makes Benjamin Braddock an archetype for a whole generation, a latter-day Holden
Caulfield.The Chicago Tribune hailed Webb as "a highly gifted and accomplished writer," and Saturday
Review wrote that The Graduate "moves with the speed and drive of a runaway locomotive."
Benjamin Braddock graduated from a small Eastern college on a day in June. Then he flew home. The
following evening a party was given for him by his parents. By eight o'clock most of the guests had arrived
but Benjamin had not yet come down from his room. His father called up from the foot of the stairs but
there was no answer. Finally he hurried up the stairs and to the end of the hall."Ben?" he said, opening
his son's door."I'll be down later," Benjamin said."Ben, the guests are all here," his father said. "They're
all waiting.""I said I'll be down later."Mr. Braddock closed the door behind him. "What is it," he
said.Benjamin shook his head and walked to the window."What is it, Ben.""Nothing.""Then why don't you
come on down and see your guests." Benjamin didn't answer."Ben?""Dad," he said, turning around, "I
have some things on my mind right now.""What things.""Just some things.""Well can't you tell me what
they are?""No."Mr. Braddock continued frowning at his son a few more moments, glanced at his watch,
then looked back at Benjamin."Ben, these are our friends down there," he said. "My friends. Your
mother's friends. You owe them a little courtesy.""Tell them I have to be alone right now.""Mr. Robinson's
out in the garage looking at your new sports car. Now go on down and give him a ride in it."Benjamin
reached into his pocket for a pair of shiny keys on a small chain. "Here," he said."What?""Give him the
keys. Let him drive it.""But he wants to see you.""Dad, I don't want to see him right now," Benjamin said.
"I don't want to see the Robinsons, I don't want to see the Pearsons, I don't want to see the...the
Terhunes.""Ben, Mr. Robinson and I have been practicing law together in this town for seventeen years.
He's the best friend I have.""I realize that.""He has a client over in Los Angeles that he's put off seeing so
he could be here and welcome you home from college.""Dad-""Do you appreciate that?""I'd appreciate it if
I could be alone!"His father shook his head. "I don't know what's got into you," he said, "but whatever it is
I want you to snap out of it and march right on down there."Suddenly the door opened and Benjamin's
mother stepped into the room. "Aren't you ready yet?" she said."No.""We'll be right down," his father
said."Well what's wrong," she said, closing the door behind her."I am trying to think!""Come on, Ben," his
father said. He took his arm and began leading him toward the door."Goddammit will you leave me alone!"
Benjamin said. He pulled away and stood staring at him."Ben?" Mr. Braddock said quietly, staring back
at him, "don't you ever swear at your mother or me again."Benjamin shook his head. Then he walked
between them and to the door. "I'm going for a walk," he said. He stepped out into the hall and closed the
door behind him.He hurried to the head of the stairs and down but just as he had gotten to the front door
and was about to turn the knob Mr. Terhune appeared out of the living room."Ben?" he said. "I want to
shake your hand."Benjamin shook it.
Ben?" he said. "I want to shake your hand."
Benjamin shook it.