Study Guide

The Graduate Summary

The Graduate Summary

Fear of the Future

When the story begins, Benjamin Braddock has just arrived back home in Southern California after graduating from college in the East. And even though he's smart, accomplished, and rich, guess what—he's unhappy. Imagine that. Like every Disney princess, he wants his future to be "different" in some vague way—not something his traditional parents' friends encourage him to embrace at his graduation party. But one of the guests at this party, Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's business partner, has other designs on Benjamin beyond giving him career advice. She wants a ride home…

And sex.

Benjamin obliges with the ride home but ducks out when the come-ons start to get a little overt—like, when Mrs. Robinson gets naked and tries to trap Ben in the room with her. But, later on, after having some depressing experiences that leave him feeling totally disconnected from everyone, Ben decides to give Mrs. Robinson a call. They meet at a hotel and commence their affair. After some comic misunderstandings with the hotel staff, a guilt-ridden Benjamin almost bails. But after Mrs. Robinson suggests that he might be "inadequate," he plunges in, and they…get busy.

Like Mother, Like Daughter

But guess what again? Having an affair doesn't actually make him happy, either. It actually makes him feel kind of disgusted and empty. He continues to drift aimlessly in his parents' pool when he's not giving Mrs. Robinson "the time" (as they used to call it back then). But plot complications quickly ensue. Benjamin's parents have been nagging him to date Mrs. Robinson's daughter, Elaine, and after trying to sabotage the date by taking her to a strip club, ends up hitting it off with her. Could this be…love?

It could be, but the budding relationship is soon crushed when Ben's virtually forced to confess the affair to Elaine when Mrs. Robinson threatens to do it herself. Naturally, Elaine doesn't want to see him anymore; she refuses to believe that her mother was the one who initiated the affair. She goes back to college at U.C. Berkeley.

Ben moves to Berkeley to try to convince her to marry him and seems to make some progress. But it turns out she's engaged to this other dude, Carl Smith, a typical blond frat-boy type. Mr. Robinson corners Ben and threatens to bring legal action against him if he continues to see Elaine. Elaine's yanked out of school by her parents and rushed into marry Carl. Yadda-yadda-ing through some plot points, Ben ends up crashing their wedding, fighting off the irate wedding guests, and absconding with the bride. They escape on a Santa Barbara city bus, at first elated with their romantic daring, and then perhaps a bit bewildered abut their uncertain future…

And that's where the movie ends.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    Stuck in the Fish Tank

    • As the movie begins, we see Benjamin Braddock arriving back home in southern California after his college graduation.
    • After he leaves the airplane, he rides the automatic sidewalk through the airport to the melancholy soundtrack of Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence." Doesn't look like he's glad to be home.
    • At home, Ben's moping in his room and staring at a fish tank with a little scuba-diver statue in it. A party is going on downstairs.
    • Ben's dad, Mr. Braddock, enters and tells him the guests are waiting for him downstairs, but Ben wants some time alone. He's pondering his future, and says he wants it to be "different."
    • They head downstairs, where the party guests (his parents' friends, mostly) jovially ask Ben about his plans for the future, his scholarship award, and whether he'll pick up "teeny boppers" in his cool, new Italian sports car.
    • Ben goes outside, where another family friend, Mr. McGuire gives him some unsolicited career advice—he tells him there's "a great future in plastics." Ben says he'll think about it.
    • Ben finds all this intolerable. He goes upstairs in his bedroom to hide from the party guests, but another family friend, Mrs. Robinson, enters, and acts like she thought this was the bathroom.
    • She asks Ben why he's upset, and he doesn't seem to know. She asks him for a ride home. He agrees.
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    The Art of Seduction

    • When they arrive at Mrs. Robinson's house, she invites him in. Once they're inside, Mrs. Robinson offers him a drink and says she doesn't want to be alone in her house while her husband's out.
    • She puts on music, and starts asking him what he thinks about her—like if he knew she was an alcoholic. She mentions her husband won't be home for several hours.
    • Benjamin's clearly nervous and tells Mrs. Robinson that he thinks she's trying to seduce him.
    • She denies it, though she says she feels flattered, and he asks her to forgive him for thinking that.
    • She asks him to go upstairs to see her daughter Elaine's new portrait.
    • Benjamin comments on Elaine's attractiveness. Mrs. Robinson casually asks him to unzip her dress so she can go to sleep.
    • Ben's extremely reluctant, but he eventually pulls the zipper down and then goes to leave.
    • Mrs. Robinson says he's acting strange, but Ben says that if Mr. Robinson came in this would clearly look funny. Things are getting weird, and Ben says he's leaving.
    • Before he leaves, Mrs. Robinson asks him to come back upstairs to bring her her purse.
    • He says he'll just hand it over the railing, but she insists on him coming up.
    • He goes in to put the purse down, but then Mrs. Robinson sneaks in, naked, shutting the door behind her.
    • A freaked-out Ben demands she open the door, but she calmly says that if he won't sleep with her now, he can call her some other time and make an arrangement.
    • Ben hears a car pulling into the driveway, pushes her out of the way, and runs downstairs.
    • Mr. Robinson arrives, doesn't suspect anything, and invites Ben to have a drink. He tells him to take it easier than he seems to be, and to act like a ladies' man—sow some wild oats and have some flings.
    • Mrs. Robinson, fully dressed, comes downstairs, and agrees that Ben looks like a ladies' man.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    Scuba Symbolism

    • We cut to Mr. Braddock addressing a bunch of family friends in his backyard. He's going to present some amazing feature attraction to them.
    • After some more rhetorical fanfare, it appears that the feature attraction is Benjamin, dressed in a new scuba-diving suit.
    • Ben reluctantly walks into the backyard, and we see the scene from his perspective, from behind the suit's mask. He dives into the pool, and looks back up. We see his lonely figure standing, apparently pretty far down, on the bottom of the pool.
    • Apparently, this experience was sufficiently mortifying to provoke Ben into calling Mrs. Robinson from a payphone at the Taft Hotel. He's decided to take up her up on her offer since the rest of his life has been turning into a disaster.
    • She says she'll be there in an hour.
    • He ends up holding the door for some older married people before going over to the room clerk, who asks him if he's there for an affair—meaning a party. Ben's terror merges into understanding, and he says he's there for "The Singleman Party."
    • Ben walks into the party, where he has an awkward encounter with an older woman who thinks he's a guest.
    • He bows out and goes to the hotel bar, where Mrs. Robinson comes in and meets with him for a drink. Ben says he'll go get a room, which he hasn't done yet.
    • He arranges a room with the clerk under a fake name, and then calls Mrs. Robinson at the bar from the payphone to tell her where the room is.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    Dog Days

    • In the room, Ben helps Mrs. Robinson take her dress off. But then he has second thoughts, saying this is all wrong.
    • Mrs. Robinson says it must be his first time or that he feels sexually inadequate. Smart move, Mrs. Robinson. Ben decides to go for it.
    • Next, there's a sequence where Ben appears to go from drifting in his pool to walking directly into the hotel room with Mrs. Robinson to walking back into his own home and back into the hotel. Simon and Garfunkel provide "The Sound of Silence" as a soundtrack.
    • Back in his family's pool, Benjamin is drifting. His dad asks him why he hasn't been looking for a job or doing any work—what was the point of college?
    • Ben says he doesn't know.
    • We cut to the Robinsons visiting Benjamin's parents. When Mr. Robinson asks what Ben's been doing, Ben tells Mr. Robinson he's just been taking it easy.
    • Mr. Robinson suggests calling up Elaine, his daughter, when she gets back from school at Berkeley.
    • In Benjamin's room, his mother confronts him about where he goes all night. Benjamin claims he just drives around, but since he doesn't return in the morning, she's not convinced.
    • Ben then claims that he gets drunk and rents a hotel room so he doesn't have to drive drunk. She's still not convinced. Moms…they've got this crazy sixth sense.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    Built Ford Tough

    • Back at the hotel room, Benjamin insists on having a conversation with Mrs. Robinson. All they do is have sex, apparently, and he wants to talk about something.
    • She suggests art as a conversation topic, but then acts like she doesn't know anything about it.
    • He asks her what she did during the day, and when she mentions cooking dinner for her husband, he asks her how she manages to evade her husband to get to the hotel.
    • She explains that he takes sleeping pills to go to bed, and that they don't sleep in the same room anyway. They have sex very rarely.
    • Mrs. Robinson gets undressed, but Ben makes her continue talking. She says she doesn't love her husband, but she doesn't hate him either.
    • As Ben continues asking her questions, she reveals she got married because she got pregnant with Elaine. She had to give up college, where she was an art major—despite just having said she wasn't interested in art.
    • Ben teases her when she admits that Elaine was conceived in a Ford.
    • When he jokes about taking Elaine on a date, Mrs. Robinson tells him not to take her out. Ben gets her to say that she thinks Ben isn't good enough for Elaine, which precipitates an argument where Ben says he feels disgusted with himself over the affair and doesn't like spending time with a broken-down alcoholic like Mrs. Robinson.
    • He threatens to break off the affair, but she backs off, telling him that he's good enough for Elaine but that they wouldn't be right for each other.
    • But she makes him promise he won't take Elaine out. Then they get back to business.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    True Love at a Strip Club

    • Around the house, his parents keep pressuring Ben to date Elaine, but he refuses. They say they don't know what to tell Mr. Robinson, who keeps suggesting it.
    • Finally, they say they're going to invite all the Robinsons over for dinner. Ben slides off his raft into the pool with a look of terror on his face. He agrees to just call Elaine instead.
    • At the Robinsons' house, Mr. Robinson gives him a drink and then goes to find Elaine. We can hear Benjamin arguing with Mrs. Robinson in the other room when Mr. Robinson leaves. She's upset, and Ben says he had to take Elaine out but won't do it again.
    • Ben tries his best to sabotage the date, acting totally rude to Elaine, giving her terse answers and not ordering dinner for himself at the restaurant.
    • He takes her to a strip club. After the stripper messes with Elaine, she storms out in tears.
    • Ben follows, feeling terrible. He tries to say he only acted like a jerk because his parents made him go on the date. Then, he kisses her
    • They go to a drive-in where they stuff their faces and commiserate about their uncertainty over the future.
    • Ben says he doesn't understand the rules that run the world.
    • Ben almost takes Elaine home, but they decide to go somewhere else. Elaine suggests the Taft Hotel for a drink. Ben reluctantly goes, but when someone recognizes him using his fake name "Mr. Gladstone," he ducks out.
    • In the car, Ben admits to Elaine that he really likes likes her, that going out with her is the only thing that's happened that doesn't seem like a waste.
    • She asks him if he's been having an affair, and he admits that he has. But he says it's over.
    • They make plans to do something the next day.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    Completely Baked

    • When Benjamin arrives to pick up Elaine the next day, Mrs. Robinson comes out and gets in the car. She threatens to tell Elaine about the affair if Ben insists on going out with her.
    • To pre-empt her, Ben gets out and runs into the Robinsons' house. Elaine isn't fully dressed yet, but Ben goes into her room, and he says he has something to tell her about the woman he had the affair with.
    • Mrs. Robinson arrives outside the door, and Elaine realizes the truth. She screams at Ben to get out.
    • Elaine heads back to Berkeley, leaving Ben to pine.
    • One day, he announces to his parents that he's going to marry Elaine Robinson. They're overjoyed, until he explains that she doesn't realize they're going to get married—and she doesn't even like him.
    • He insists on going up to Berkeley to convince her to marry him, even though his dad thinks it sounds like "half-baked" idea.
    • In Berkeley, Ben moves into a rooming-house run by a suspicious landlord named Mr. McCleery, who thinks Ben might be an "outside agitator." (There were a lot of them, anti-war agitators, on college campuses back then.)
    • Ben manages to meet Elaine on campus. She's not happy to see him, but not completely outraged, either.
    • He follows her to the zoo, where she's meeting some dude. When she asks him why he's in Berkeley, he explains that he's sitting in on classes even though he's not enrolled.
    • Elaine introduces him to her date, Carl Smith. Ben's polite and pleasant, although it tears him up inside.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    Smoothly Persuasive

    • Elaine confronts Ben at his apartment. He admits he loves her and is in Berkeley because of her. She asks him to leave town.
    • Elaine says that Mrs. Robinson told her that Benjamin raped her after driving her home from a bar where she got drunk. He says that's a total lie.
    • He starts to explain what really happened, with Mrs. Robinson stripping down in front of him—but Elaine screams.
    • This draws the attention of the landlord and a bunch of (male) tenants (everyone in the rooming house is male). They want to call the cops, but Ben shows them that Elaine is OK and is having a glass of water after being upset about something.
    • (Recognize a 20 year-old Richard Dreyfuss in that bunch?)
    • When the other tenants leave, McCleery tells Ben he doesn't like him and wants him out.
    • Back in the room, Elaine tells him she doesn't want him to leave until he has a definite plan (sort of contradicting what she said earlier). She leaves.
    • Later, Elaine comes back to the house, and asks Ben to kiss her. He does. Then he asks her to marry him. She says she might marry him, but she's confused about what's happening.
    • Ben follows Elaine around campus, bugging her about marrying him. She says she doesn't think it'll work.
    • To Ben's shock, she admits that she promised Carl Smith that she'd marry him, too.
    • He continues to follow her around, needling her about the lame way Carl proposed marriage.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    Awkward Encounters of the First Kind

    • Coming back to his room, Ben finds Mr. Robinson waiting for him.
    • OMG.
    • Mr. Robinson is angry (oh, yeah) and wants to know why Ben would do this to him. He and Mrs. Robinson are getting divorced.
    • Ben says he has nothing against Mr. Robinson at all, and the affair didn't mean anything. He says he's in love with Elaine, not Mrs. Robinson.
    • Mr. Robinson threatens to prosecute him if he comes near Elaine again. He leaves, calling Ben a degenerate on the way out.
    • The landlord now seriously yells at Ben to leave.
    • Elaine leaves school at Berkeley, sending a note for Ben, telling him they won't be able to get married even though she loves him.
    • Back in Southern California, Ben goes to the Robinsons' house. He sneaks in to see Elaine but Mrs. Robinson is the only person there. She calls the police and tells them there's a burglar in her house.
    • She apologizes to Ben, saying he won't be invited to the wedding, and then offers him a drink. He leaves angry.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    We Always Cry at Weddings

    • Back in Berkeley, Ben finds Carl Smith's fraternity. He quizzes the frat brothers about where the wedding's being held and discovers it's in Santa Barbara. The frat brothers joke about Carl being a "make-out king."
    • He races back in his car, speeding into town. At one point, he stops to make a call, pretending he's a minister and needs to know where the wedding is. He figures out where the church is located.
    • He runs out of gas and has to sprint the last mile there.
    • At the church, he runs up to the second floor, where, through a giant balcony window he can see Carl and Elaine kissing, having just been declared man and wife.
    • He pounds on the glass, screaming Elaine's name. Mrs. Robinson looks up with a satisfied smirk.
    • He's too late.
    • Elaine stares up at him and and finally screams back, "BEN!"
    • He runs downstairs, and fights off the enraged wedding guests, including Carl and Mr. Robinson.
    • Mrs. Robinson tries to stop Elaine, but can't.
    • After battling the guests with a cross from the church, Ben uses it to bolt the door after him. He and Elaine dash out hand in hand, hop on a city bus, and speed off.
    • Some pretty amazed bus passengers turn around to stare at the young woman in a wedding gown and her sweaty, disheveled companion.
    • Elaine and Ben are elated, but as the bus moves along, their expressions become neutral and quizzical. They're not sure what's next.