The novella The Graduate
(1963) by Charles Webb served as the basis for the famous film of the same name. Webb wrote the novel after graduating from Williams College. Benjamin Braddock is a recent graduate of a small East Coast college who moves home to live with his parents and figure out what to do with his life. While at home, he has an affair with the older and more experienced Mrs. Robinson.
In June 1962, Benjamin Braddock returns home to suburban Los Angeles, California. At a graduation party at his home, Benjamin feels uncomfortable as the guests praise his academic and athletic accomplishments. He is even more uncomfortable when they ask him about his plans for the future. He has earned a scholarship to attend graduate school, but he is unsure what he wants to do with his life.
Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s business partner, asks Benjamin to drive her home. She invites him inside for a drink and tries to seduce him. Mrs. Robinson asks Benjamin to fetch her purse from downstairs and returns to find her naked. Benjamin is saved as Mr. Robinson comes home.
The unsuspecting Mr. Robinson wants to set his daughter, Elaine,up with Benjamin. Mr. Robinson suggests that Benjamin call his daughter when she returns home from Berkeley next Saturday. But Benjamin soon learns that Elaine is staying in Berkeley for summer school.
With plenty of free time on his hands, Benjamin spends a lot of time thinking about his life. He takes off on a three-week road trip as he feels the need to escape the societal pressure of the world in the mid-1960s and of his parents. When he returns from his trip, he decides to meet Mrs. Robinson at the Hotel Taft. She is a smooth and confident seductress. They spend the night together and begin their sexual affair.
The indecisive Benjamin fails to select a graduate school to attend and has to forfeit his scholarship. It is mid-September and Benjamin is still undecided about what he wants in life. The author emphasizes Benjamin’s lack of direction by having him ask a lot of questions. Most of his questions remain unanswered or have an unsatisfactory answer.
Mrs. Robinson uses Benjamin for sex but treats him like a child during their affair. They make love together but do not have much to talk about. Benjamin learns a lot about disillusionment and failure from her. Mrs. Robinson tells him that she is neglected by her husband and in a loveless marriage. She feels indifferent. She married him because she got pregnant with her daughter Elaine. It was the 1940s and she needs to avoid a scandal. She did not have a choice. Mrs. Robinson numbs herself with alcohol to escape her unhappiness.
Elaine comes home from Berkeley and while Mr. Robinson wants her to date Benjamin, Mrs. Robinson adamantly opposes it. Benjamin breaks his promise to Mrs. Robinson by taking Elaine on a date. Benjamin does his best to sabotage the date by taking her to a strip club, which Elaine leaves in tears.
After their disastrous first date, Benjamin changes his mind. He and Elaine begin a relationship. During a date, he takes her to the Taft Hotel, where he is recognized by many of the staff. He explains that he had an affair there with an older, married woman. He does not say with whom.
When Benjamin goes to pick Elaine up, Mrs. Robinson speaks to him alone. She threatens to expose their affair to her daughter. Benjamin decides to tell Elaine the truth about the affair with her mother. Furious, Elaine throws him out and says she never wants to never see him again. Elaine returns to school at Berkeley.
At the start of 1963, Benjamin decides that he wants to marry Elaine so he moves to Berkeley to be near her. He has to sell his car to do so. He manages to meet her at a bus station, where he learns she is dating a medical student named Carl Smith. Elaine visits him twice at the rooming house where he is staying. During their heated discussions, Elaine accuses him of raping her drunk mother. Elaine cannot believe that her mother would be responsible for beginning the affair. After fellow tenants complain, Benjamin’s landlord gives him a week to move out.
Elaine soon realizes Benjamin is telling the truth and asks him to stay in Berkeley. Benjamin asks her to marry him. Carl Smith has also asked her to marry him. Elaine is torn because she knows her parents don’t want Benjamin in her life. In fact, Mrs. Robinson sends Benjamin a telegram ordering him to leave Berkeley.
Mr. Robinson, who now knows about the affair between Benjamin and his wife, requests a meeting with Benjamin. During their meeting, he tells Benjamin about his impending divorce and that he is leaving Benjamin’s father’s business. He will take legal action against Benjamin if he sees Elaine again. Mr. Robinson forces Elaine to come home with him and drop out of Berkeley.
The situation gets worse and Benjamin is sent to a psychiatrist. Elaine refuses Benjamin’s proposal and accepts Carl’s. Benjamin does not know where to find Elaine. He gets caught breaking into the Robinson’s home in an attempt to discover Elaine’s whereabouts.
Benjamin finds Elaine in the nick of time, as she walks down the aisle on her wedding day. Benjamin and Elaine flee the church together and ride off in a bus. In the end, love triumphs over the corruption and conformity of their parents’ generation.