The Graduate by Charles Webb
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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."
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- Last changed:
- Aug 19, 2009
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