The Graduate, is one of the easiest books I have ever read, in fact it’s like reading a play but entirely in prose format. You could read it in a few hours. It is short and to some degree sweet. Frustrating, because the ending leaves so much unsaid but ultimately an interesting read. Shocking, hilarious and full of pointless, meandering, circular conversations in which nothing concrete is achieved. I literally couldn’t put it down.
Ben Braddock is a graduate – obviously – disillusioned, fed up and confused about life. Unsure of what he actually wants to do. Sounds a bit like me, only I’m not down for adultery. Ben is clever with huge potential and numerous postgraduate offers but he chooses to throw all that away; the pressure too much. And in his weakened, floundering state he succumbs to Mrs Robinson’s seduction. I should mention that Mrs Robinson is his Father’s business partner’s wife. Awkward. Even more awkward is Ben’s sudden desire to marry Mrs Robinson’s daughter, Elaine. A younger and better model perhaps, who hasn’t yet turned to alcoholism (it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if she did, considering what happens). Here ensues stalking, harassing and downright weirdness, as Ben becomes increasingly erratic in his rejection of American suburban life and pursuit of Elaine, whose mind appears equally as confused as Ben’s.
In the sixties a time of rebellion and reclaiming ones freedom, Ben epitomizes a coming change, in which adult children break away from parents and social rules, education, expectation and the establishment; wildly pursing muddled desires, arms flailing, shouting and hollering, like a blind tornado all the way.
In fact I believe that this entire novel is a tale of defiance against adult authority and a superb example of reverse psychology. Ben’s defiant and bizarre decision to chase Elaine (a girl he previously didn’t ‘get on with’ or even want to date, despite Mr Robinson’s prompting) can only have been sparked by Mrs Robinson’s outright declaration that any pursuit of her precious daughter is strictly forbidden. It is this turning point that causes Ben’s mind to pivot, 360 style and he does the complete opposite of what he is told. Refusing to relent until he gets Elaine.
Mrs Robinson destroyed any authority she had over Ben, the moment the affair began, his respect for her disappearing, lying amongst the pile of clothes she sheds onto the Hotel floor; the scene of their affair. They have breached the adult/grown up child relationship, Ben becomes Mrs Robinson’s equal, her lover, an object of her sexual longing. It is no surprise then that Ben usurps the power by chasing after MISS Robinson instead; he is finished with the senior edition of the Robinson female. Admittedly this power struggle doesn’t last long, Mrs Robinson single-handedly destroys Ben’s previously untarnished and quiet reputation, his parents completely at a loss, his actions having catastrophic effects on his Father’s Business. But what about Ben’s future? And Elaine’s? Surely they cannot share a future, they cannot co-exist as a married couple because of the weird nature of their union.
But apparently they do, as there is a sequel to this text entitled Home School, in which the couple face the challenges of educating their children. I certainly intend to give this a read, because quite frankly I don’t see how Elaine and Ben could ever survive as a couple; there are just some things a mother and daughter should never ever share.