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The Graduate ()

I find him so unlikable that there are only two Dustin Hoffman films I ever return to: Marathon Man, where we get to enjoy him being tortured; and, All the President's Men, where he's the annoying half of Woodstein. So I've only ever seen discrete scenes from his career-making role in The Graduate, enough to know how annoying he is therein. and I was bewildrered to read--in Mark Harris's, Pictures at a Revolution, that the producers sort of stumbled upon him and had originally envisioned Robert Redford for the part. Hoffman seemed born to play the whiny Benjamin Braddock of the movie. But, when I found the book I thought maybe they'd gone a different direction from the text?


In a semi-autobiographical tale, Ben, like Charles Webb, has just returned to California from an elite Eastern school and is at loose ends about his future. The author says he developed a crush on a family friend, whereas in the book that friend is a near sexual predator and, famously, "seduces" Ben. Eventually he tries to escape the relationship by, in turn, stalking Mrs. Robinson's daughter. The older woman recognizes that she has helped give the young man just enough sexual prowess and helped foster sufficient moral degradation that he could be a genuine threat to her girl. Most of all, she is aware that Ben is completely unworthy and that her rather dim daughter will be susceptible, so she fights to keep them apart.

In the famous final scene, Ben breaks up Elaine Robinson's wedding to a more suitable young man and they run off from the church and onto a bus:
Elaine was still trying to catch her breath. She turned her face to look at him. For several moments she sat looking at him, then she reached over and took his hand.

"Banjamin?" she said.


The bus began to move.
Hilariously, the back cover blurb on my edition of the book describes this as "love and idealism triumphing over the forces of corruption and conformity." It is obviously no such thing. Ben has no ideals and is, himself, a force for corruption. If he does indeed represent a rebellion against the conformity of middle class life--as he breaks up two marriages and business partnership--he only serves to make us appreciate squareness.

There is a gigantic abyss at the center of this novel and it is located right within the character of Ben. So far as is revealed to us, he believes in nothing. He has no ideals, no dreams, no moral fiber, no nothing. And, as a result, his interactions with every other character in the book--but particularly his two lovers--are distinguished most by the lack of love. That's love of any kind, not just romantic. He is impossible to like, but only slightly moreso than the other characters, so we have no investment in his story. Ben may well be the perfect avatar of the disillusionment of '60s youth, but the irony is that he makes the "illusion" look awfully attractive and the alternative contemptible.


Grade: (C-)


See also:

General Literature
Charles Webb Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Charles Webb
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Charles Webb (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Graduate (novel)
    -ARCHIVES: Charles Webb papers on The Graduate (Williams)
    -READING GUIDE: The Graduate (All Readers)
    -READING GUIDE: The Graduate (Super Summary)
    -OBIT: Obituary: Charles Webb: Novelist who found fame, if not fortune, with his novel 'The Graduate' (June 28 2020,
    -OBIT: The Graduate made $100m... so why did its creator die broke?: Charles Webb's novel inspired the movie, but as he dies at 81, JANE FRYER reveals how he and his wife gave away their homes and took up dead-end jobs — including at a nudist colony (JANE FRYER, 6/25/20, THE DAILY MAIL)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb, Author of ‘The Graduate,’ Dies at 81: His books “New Cardiff” and “The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker” were also adapted into feature films (Brian Welk, June 27, 2020, The Wrap)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb, eccentric author of ‘The Graduate,’ dead at 81 (Jack Hobbs, June 28, 2020, NY Post)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb, author of The Graduate, dies at 81 (Tyler Aquilina, June 27, 2020, Entertainment weekly)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb obituary: Anti-materialist author of The Graduate who signed away the royalties, handed back his home and found contentment in a nudist colony (The Times uk, June 24 2020)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb Dies: Author Of ‘The Graduate’ Novel Was 81 (Bruce Haring, June 27, 2020, deadline)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb obituary: Author of the novel The Graduate, which was made into the famous 1967 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft (Michael Carlson, 6 Jul 2020, The Graduate)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb: ‘The Graduate’ author who ended up living in poverty: The writer distanced himself from the movie adaptation’s huge success and throughout his life championed an anti-materialist philosophy (Harrison Smith, 01 July 2020, Independent)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb, Author of ‘The Graduate’ Novel, Dies at 81: Charles Webb, a lifelong non-conformist whose debut novel 'The Graduate' was a deadpan satire of his college education and wealthy background adapted into the classic film of the same name, has died. (AP, JUNE 27, 2020)
    -OBIT: Charles Webb, Elusive Author of ‘The Graduate,’ Dies at 81: His novel was turned into an era-defining movie, but he was never comfortable with its success, and he chose to live in poverty (John Leland, June 28, 2020, NY Times)
-ARTICLE: Charles Webb and his partner face eviction from their Hove flat: The author behind the film The Graduate faces eviction from his home in East Sussex because of rent arrears. (BBC, 18 April 2006)
    -PROFILE: Who are you, Mrs Robinson?: As a spin-off movie follows the stage show and original film of The Graduate, the man who wrote the book that started it all tells David Smith the true source of his inspiration for the screen temptress (David Smith, 5 Feb 2005, The Observer)
'It [Mrs Robinson] was an aberrant fantasy of mine that popped out,' recalled Webb, 65, a Californian now living modestly in Hove, East Sussex. 'I was at home after college, like the character in the film. My father was a doctor and had couples over to the house to play bridge. There was a wife of one of the doctors who came over and at the sight of her my fantasy life became super-charged.

'I went to the Pasedena Library one day and wrote a short plot outline to get that person out of my system. My purpose in writing has always been to work things out of me. Later I got a grant from my college to turn it into a novel.'

    -PROFILE: Post-Graduate Life Proves Unkind to Author Charles Webb—Footloose, Fundless and Looking for Help (Tim Allis and William Sonzski, October 24, 1988, People)
    -INTERVIEW: Charles Webb interview: 'My whole life has been measured by The Graduate' (John Preston, 6/22/20, The Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: Thoughtcat exclusive - An interview with Charles Webb (Thought Cat, 7/22/06)
    -PROFILE: THE DROPOUT (Richard Lei, December 20, 1992, Washington Post)
    -PROFILE: How the Author of The Graduate Walked Away From Middle-Class Mores: Beverly Gray on Charles Webb's Unexpected Life of Charity (Beverly Gray, July 2, 2020, Lit Hub)
    -PROFILE: The strange, destitute life of The Graduate author Charles Webb: HE WROTE the book that became one of the most iconic movies of our time. But Charles Webb made almost nothing and lived a life stranger than fiction. (Zoe Nauman, MAY 8, 2017,
    -REMEMBRANCE: Charles Webb Enters Heaven (DAN WAKEFIELD, 7/01/20, Counterpunch)
    -ESSAY: Was The Graduate Inspired by a Brontë Family Scandal?: Finola Austin on Benjamin Braddock, Branwell Brontë, and the Two Mrs. Robinsons. (Finola Austin, August 26, 2020, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Reappraising Charles Webb’s The Graduate (1963): Exploring cultural and historical elements of a character in the contemporary economy (Peter Watt, Bogdan Costea, March 14, 2019, Organization)
    -ESSAY: The Graduate (1967) – Only The Soundtrack Aged Well (AIDAN KING, 7/31/2020, TREMG)
    -ESSAY: Charles Webb’s “The Graduate” and the Black Lives Matter Movement (RICARDOFILM, 7/31/2020, TREMG)
    -PODCAST: The Graduate (Craig Getting, 11/30/20, Overdue)
    -REVIEW: of The Graduate (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Graduate (Hanif Kureishi, The Graduate)
    -REVIEW: of The Graduate (David Evans, The Independent)
    -REVIEW: of The Graduate (Kirkus)
    -REVIEW: of The Graduate (Not So Modern Girl)
    -REVIEW: of The Graduate (The Literary Edit)
    -REVIEW: of the Graduate (Devouring Texts)
    -REVIEW: of Home School by Charles Webb (Publishers Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Home School (Clark Collis, EW)
    -REVIEW: of New Cardiff by Charles Webb (Publishers Weekly)


    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Graduate (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Graduate (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Graduate
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Mike Nichols (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Buck Henry
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Dustin Hoffman
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Anne Bancroft (IMDB)
    -DISCUSSION: Remembering ''The Graduate'': Remembering ''The Graduate'' -- Dustin Hoffman, Buck Henry, and Katharine Ross reminisce about the film (Ty Burr, October 23, 1992, EW)
    -ESSAY: How Mike Nichols and ‘The Graduate’ Changed American Movies Forever (Stanley Kauffmann, November 20, 2014, New Republic)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Mike Nichols and the American Century: The director made landmark contributions to three distinct art forms. His life reflected the American experience in the latter half of the twentieth century—both its failures and its feats. (JONATHAN KIRSHNER, June 2021, Boston Review)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Graduate (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Graduate (Ellen E. Jones, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Graduate (Jacob R. Berkman, The New Yorker)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Graduate (Andrew Sarris, 1970)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Graduate (Chris Galloway, Criterion Forum)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Graduate (A.D. Murphy, Variety)
    -PODCAST: The Graduate (Criterion Close-up)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Marriage of a Young Stockbroker (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)

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