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Published in 1963, Charles Webb's The Graduate was a sly and provocative first novel that is often overshadowed by the success of Mike Nichol's sensational 1967 film.
The Graduate is a novel that speaks to its time: a time when young Americans were beginning to question, for perhaps the first time, the materialistic values that the postwar culture had taught them. Its hero is at once worldly and naive, a dichotomy that won't last for very long as Benjamin Braddock, the appealing young man of great promise who seems to have everything going for him, sets out to explore his world.
After returning to his parent's home after graduation, Braddock ponders his future and finds himself in a state of confusion and depression. It seems the only thing that really rallies him is the attention of Mrs. Robinson, the bored attractive wife of his father's law partner, who makes a play for Benjamin who responds in kind. What the affair lacks in passion, it makes up for in intensity.
The affair with Mrs. Robinson continues until Benjamin discovers the Robinsons' beautiful daughter Elaine, with whom he falls promptly in love. Driven to a fit of jealousy, Mrs. Robinson will have none of it, and she tells her daughter of her affair with Benjamin in an attempt to separate the two. Undeterred however, Benjamin pursues Elaine, even though she becomes involved with somebody else. He pursues her all the way to the altar, in fact.
The Graduate takes a hard look at contemporary society and social mores, and while it does so with panache and humor, the underlying message is not lost on the reader. It is a scathing look at how vacuous and materialistic middle-class American life had become in the mid-20th century. The Chicago Sunday Review wrote that The Graduate "moves with the speed and drive of a runaway locomotive."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charles Webb seems to have taken the message of his book very seriously and has spent his adult life avoiding the sort of traps that materialism lays for people. Since the success of The Graduate, has shunned the limelight. Both he and his wife have sought to avoid the celebrity and the expectations that success could have brought them. Webb gave away most of the money he made from the novel and reportedly sold the film rights to the book for a mere $20,000.
From classic book to classic film, RosettaBooks has gathered some of most memorable books into film available. The selection is broad ranging and far reaching, with books from classic genre to cult classic to science fiction and horror and a blend of the two creating whole new genres like Richard Matheson's The Shrinking Man. Classic works from Vonnegut, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, meet with E.M. Forrester's A Passage to India. Whether the work is centered in the here and now, in the past, or in some distant and almost unimaginable future, each work is lasting and memorable and award-winning.
This little novel really is quite good entertainment. Most of the book is just dialogue, reading much like a screenplay, so it is hardly going to rank up there as an all-time great novel. The conversations between Ben and his parents, Ben and Mrs Robinson etc. are tremendously witty, and I found myself laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Ben is a considerably darker character than he appears in the (perhaps superior) film version, being a cynical and disillusioned graduate going through a depression during which he loses interest in just about everything and resigns himself to a life of 'bumming around'. I think I would agree with Douglas Brode, the film critic who wrote of the movie that it was not a story about the generation gap, but rather about a young man who feels as alienated from his own peers as from his parents' generation. This comes across much more strongly in the book, and we also get a very strong sense of WHY he feels so distanced from the rest of his culture - the superficiality and hypocrisy of middle-class America (this is very much a book of its time) is evident, and the reader finds himself disgusted with the shallow attitudes of the milieu in which Benjamin finds himself.
As other reviewers have said, this book is only a classic because the movie is. THE GRADUATE is one of my favorite movies, and when I read this book I see Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. Still, this is probably the closest novel/movie adaptation I know of. The book reads like a screenplay. It's heavy on dialogue, most of which was used verbatim in the movie, and there's very little exposition. I found this a great model for writing dialogue, as well as saying a lot in the subtle reaction of a character. But if I hadn't seen the movie, I'm not sure what I'd think.
As for all those extremely negative Swiss reviews, I guess this book and the white suburban upper middle class American sub-culture it so accurately portrays do not come across as funny and as true to people from other cultures. That's understandable; I may not be able to fully relate to an accurate tale of European life. This apparent lack of universality is a valid complaint. But the book sure rings true to me. Benjamin's frustration and rebellion are all part of the normal search for meaning and self-fulfillment that many people go through. It's a classic American coming-of-age story complete with a profound identity crisis. And the discussion between Ben and his father about fighting fires and sleeping with prostitutes in frozen fields -- well, it wasn't in the movie and it makes me laugh out loud each time I read it. That part alone makes the book worthwhile.
I found this book at a used bookstore and because the movie by Mike Nichols is my favorite I bought it. I thought the movies witty dialogue came from the pen of Buck Henry, so I was really amazed to find that much of it was written by Charles Webb. The book reads much like a screenplay and it's a cool way to "watch" a movie while you're on the bus or wherever you're reading. Good luck finding a copy!
( My review is worth what you're paying for it. I'm just a regular person)
This book has importance in a cultural manner. Published in 1963 months before the Kennedy assassination, it captures the growing disillusionment of the younger generation in America at the time. Benjamin can't put a name to his feelings of pointlessness at his planned future, simply because it was a time when it was socially taboo to address the meaning of middle class life. By the time the famous film had been made in 1967 that disillusionment had reached the stage of a youth rebellion.
The affair with Mrs. Robinson and the following events do seem unbelievable in many ways. But this was a time young adults questioned their parents greater morality. Mrs. Robinson is made a rather unpleasant character to make this more acceptable to the reader. In a time before women worked outside the home in large numbers, little sympathy is given to Mrs Robinson. There is no pity for the Robinsons as a couple either. Trapped in a loveless marriage by the social norms of the time. They both clearly loved their daughter. I always felt they were rather harshly treated by the author. However this was true of the times, parents were harshly judged. Elaine rejects her Mother and the illusion her mother lives. In the end they symbolically reject the convention of even the church.
The parents of that generation had a war to catapult them into a speedy adulthood. The next generation took a good deal longer in some cases to find their way. This book beautifully reflects that time.
Then, you have read the book. The book is very dialogue heavy, a little too heavy. I gained no insight into a movie that I love, outside of the fact that in this book, Benjamin is more insufferable, Mrs. Robinson is more evil, Elaine is more naive, and Carl is actually more of a victim of choosing the wrong girl. If you have a choice between the book and movie, stick to the movie.
I loved the movie of "The Graduate" so it was just a matter of time before I read the book. It's definitely worth reading, though from today's perspective it lacks the shock value of the 60s. Mrs. Robinson is coldly calculating, so not as likable as in the movie and Benjamin Braddock, the graduate, is much too gullible. The book is mostly dialogue and "What?" is used way too often. On the other hand, this is an interesting, must-read classic. Note: There are some typos and formatting errors in the eBook version, but those can be overlooked.