The Graduate

Comprehensive Storyform

The following analysis reveals a comprehensive look at the Storyform for The Graduate. Unlike most of the analysis found here—which simply lists the unique individual story appreciations—this in-depth study details the actual encoding for each structural item. This also means it has been incorporated into the Dramatica Story Expert application itself as an easily referenced contextual example.

Story Dynamics

8 of the 12 essential questions

Main Character Resolve

Everyone thinks that Ben is absolutely on the right track and if he continues as such, he’ll be assured success.  But Ben changes.  His change is not a leap of faith, but one that is gradual and inexorable—resulting in him getting the girl, but also disappointing everyone he knows.

Main Character Growth

Ben has a hole in his heart.  A huge sucking chest wound (metaphorically speaking) of a hole that needs to be filled by starting on a path of his own choosing.  However, it could be said that Ben is wasting his time and should stuff aside all of his feelings, lie about the affair, pretend to be interested in plastics, and move onto the business of aggressively pursuing his future.  That’s probably what he should start doing if he wants to achieve the objective story goal.  But would that make him happy?

Main Character Approach

Ben is most definitely a ponderer. From the first frame of the film, his preference is clearly to think out situations before taking action.

Main Character Mental Sex

Ben tends to solve problems from a very linear, cause and effect perspective, without paying much attention to the big picture.

Story Driver

Mrs. Robinson decides to seduce Ben; Ben later decides to take her up on her offer; Ben decides to acquiesce to a date with Elaine; Ben decides he’s going to marry Elaine; Elaine decides, at the altar, to leave her groom and run off with Ben.

Story Limit

Ben’s future is completely open. There is no particular time limit imposed on his decision to step into his future (although his parents do get a bit anxious at the length of time it seems to take him).  In fact most of the story revolves around Ben’s weighing of options.  The story comes to a climax when Ben decides not to take advantage of any of the options presented to him by the adult world.

Story Outcome

Although everyone in the story sees great things for Ben’s future, he ultimately fails them all (evidenced by the horrified faces at the church), by throwing away the future they had in mind for him and running away with Elaine.

Story Judgment

As Elaine and Ben are on the bus riding away from the church, they are very happy (this a matter of degree, of course, because there is a moment when their smiles fade slightly and become looks of “Oh my God, what have we done?”), but for the moment at least, Ben clearly thinks he has done the right thing.

Overall Story Throughline


Overall Story Throughline

Ben Braddock has arrived home from college, as a hero. Everyone has high hopes for his future and seem very concerned that Ben appears to be putting off his future—wasting his time “floating around.”

Overall Story Concern

The future can be summed up in one word. Plastics. Everyone has high hopes for Ben’s future. He clearly has a great future ahead of him, possibly as a partner in Dad’s firm, maybe even marrying Elaine. The future looks so bright. . .  Which is why everyone is concerned that Ben appears to be wasting all of his time doing “God knows what,” instead of taking the bull by the horns and setting goals.  Elaine is also concerned with her future, graduating from college, marriage (to Ben or Carl), her relationship with her parents if she continues to see Ben, etc.

Overall Story Issue

Ben’s father is very concerned that Ben isn’t “taking stock in himself and getting off his ass.” Mr. Robinson suggests that Ben give Elaine a call when she gets into town, but Ben puts that off for as long as possible. Even when Ben calls Mrs. Robinson to meet her at the hotel, he puts off the actual act of getting a room (and consummating the affair), for as long as he can.

Overall Story Counterpoint

Most of the characters in the story are inclined to push Ben into make choices: to have an affair or not, to choose whether or not he’s going to grad school, to decide conclusively whether or not he’ll be taking out Elaine, etc. But the choices that are made don’t seem to be particularly well thought out, or at the very least, not the wisest of moves. (When Mr. Braddock learns of Ben’s decision to marry Elaine, he tells Ben that “This whole idea sounds pretty half-baked.” To which Ben replies, “Oh no, it’s not. It’s completely baked. It’s a decision I’ve made.”)

Overall Story Thematic Conflict
Delay vs.Choice

Perhaps the best thing for all concerned would have been to let Ben take his time in deciding what to do with his future. Unfortunately, Ben is forced into making decisions that (from the perspective of the objective characters) adversely affect his future.

Overall Story Problem

What’s at the root of all the conflict in the story is no one is willing to deal with actual problems. Mr. and Mrs. Robinson’s marriage is a sham. They don’t love each other at all. Yet rather than do something to remedy that problem, Mrs. Robinson avoids it completely, choosing instead to have an affair with Ben. Ben is avoiding the future that has been laid out for him, to the consternation and dismay of his parents. Ben’s avoidance of Elaine causes problems between the Robinsons and the Braddocks. When Mr. Robinson finds out about Ben’s affair with his wife and his feelings for his daughter, Elaine is pulled out of school and spirited away to Santa Barbara to be married.

Overall Story Solution

The general consensus is that if Ben would only pursue the future that seems to be so obviously before him, everyone would be happy. In fact everyone is thrilled (temporarily, anyway) when Ben announces he is going to Berkeley to marry Elaine. It looks, for the moment, as though he’s got a definite plan, and is making a concerted effort to achieve his future (it turns out to be a rather “half-baked” plan, however).  Once Mr. Robinson discovers his wife’s affair, he seeks a divorce.

Overall Story Symptom

The characters in The Graduate don’t see “avoidance” as problematic, they instead focus on “support.” Everyone has terrific, supportive things to say about Ben. He’s referred to as the “editor of the school paper,” a “track star,” a “ladies’ man,” a “Frank Helpingham Award Scholar.” However it seems like he’s doing very little to live up to the praise. In fact, in the words of his father (when Ben is reluctant to show off his new birthday present), “You’re disappointing them, Ben.”

Overall Story Response

Under the assumption that their problems stem from issues dealing with “support,” the characters generally react with opposition and protest.  At the drive-in, Ben explains to Elaine that ever since graduating he’s had “this kind of compulsion to be rude all the time.”  Elaine says she knows what he means.  When Mr. Robinson finds out about the affair, he asks Ben if he harbors a “particularly strong resentment” towards him.  Mr. McCleery, the landlord, doesn’t trust Ben and keeps telling him that he wants him out of his building.

Overall Story Catalyst

Ben’s willingness to reevaluate Mrs. Robinson’s offer leads to their affair. Although Ben at first refuses to see Elaine (taking Mrs. Robinson’s advice), he is willing to reevaluate that stand when his parents pressure him. When Ben apologizes to Elaine (and kisses her) after the strip club incident, she is open minded enough to go with him for a meal, and accept another date for the next day. Even after finding out that Ben “raped” her mother, Elaine is open minded enough to consider Ben’s version of the story and agree to the possibility of their getting married.

Overall Story Inhibitor

Ben refuses to see Elaine, much to the consternation of his parents and Mr. Robinson. Mrs. Robinson shows up in Ben’s car in the rain and refuses to back down on her ultimatum. Were Ben to acquiesce to her demands, the progress in the story would screech to a halt.

Overall Story Benchmark

The “past” is the standard by which progress is measured in the objective story.  When he and Elaine are on the second half of their date, he admits that he was having an affair with a married woman, but that it’s over now.  When Elaine shows up at his apartment, she asks Ben how he could have raped her mother.  Ben sets her straight on what really happened. When Ben shows up at the wedding, even though the wedding is a done deal, and despite all that she knows about his past, Elaine calls out his name, and in that one moment it is clear that the past no longer matters.

Additional Overall Story Information →
Overall Story Throughline Synopsis

Ben arrives home from college to a hero’s welcome. All of the family and friends have high hopes for the track star and editor of the school paper. They don’t understand why Ben seems to be growing so distant, and wastes his summer doing “God knows what” at night and floating around in the pool during the day. They encourage him to take out Elaine Robinson (obviously having no idea that Ben has been spending his nights having an affair with Elaine’s mother), who is visiting from Berkeley. Ben resists, but finally gives in and takes her out, just to get the parents off his back. He treats Elaine horribly on that date, forcing her to tears. When Elaine asks if Ben hates her, Ben realizes that, no, the truth is he loves her. He agrees to meet her the next day, but Mrs. Robinson, who forbade Ben from seeing Elaine at all, intercedes. Ben runs to Elaine to confess his affair, and she angrily tells him to leave. She returns to Berkeley, but Ben decides that he is going to marry her and goes to Berkeley to win her back. He almost succeeds, but Elaine’s father turns up, having learned about the affair and Ben’s advances toward Elaine, and takes her out of school. Ben searches for Elaine, and finds out that she is getting married (a very quick decision) to Carl, an old boyfriend. Ben tracks her down to a church in Santa Barbara, but is too late. She’s just said “I do.” The wedding is over. No matter. Ben starts banging on the glass of the church’s balcony and yelling Elaine’s name. The entire congregation watches in awe until Elaine yells out Ben’s name. Ben runs to her fighting off family members with a large wooden crucifix, and the two of them hop a city bus and leave their lives and commitments behind.

Overall Story Backstory

The Braddock and Robinson families have known each other for years. Mr. Robinson and Mr. Braddock are business partners. Ben and Elaine knew each other as children, though not romantically in any way. The parents have always had high hopes for the respective futures of their children. This is why it seems so logical for Mr. Robinson to suggest that Ben give a call to Elaine when she comes into town. Unfortunately, with so much emphasis on the future, no one seems to pay any attention to what has been going on right in front of their eyes, in the present.

Main Character Throughline

Ben — Graduate

Main Character Throughline

Because most of the film focuses on Ben’s perspective, the way he thinks is explored in depth.  From the opening shot, Ben is deep in thought.  He spends most of his time thinking over his situation.  Whether he’s floating in his pool, or trying to figure out exactly how to get past the suspicious hotel clerk, Ben puts a lot of thought into everything he does.

Main Character Concern

Ben is very aware of the fact his life is changing.  At the beginning, when Ben is hiding in his room, his father asks what he is worried about.  Ben tells him he wants his future to be “different.”  The implication is he does not want to become his father.  Later, he is very concerned that he is turning into a sick twisted pervert, which seems to be confirmed by Mrs. Robinson, Mr. McCleery (the landlord), and finally Mr. Robinson.

Main Character Issue

It may take Ben a while to figure out the right course of action, but once he does, he sticks with it regardless of the consequences.  For example, once Ben decides that he is going to marry Elaine, he sticks by that decision until the end, regardless of what anyone thinks.

Main Character Counterpoint

Ben is given to understand he has a responsibility to his parents to attend graduate school and become a success.  However, Ben tends to take issue with the fact that everyone else thinks they know what is best for him.  What he discovers over the course of this story is his rebel nature.  He comes to the realization that he alone is responsible for the course of his future, for better or for worse.

Main Character Thematic Conflict
Commitment vs.Responsibility

Ben’s inner conflict is, to be responsible for his own life he must have something that means enough to him to make a total commitment, regardless of what anyone else says or thinks.

Main Character Problem

When Ben arrives home from college, he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his future, and rather than face the inevitable questions, he chooses to hide in his room.  When Mrs. Robinson asks him to drive her home, Ben does everything he can to avoid it.  He runs from Mrs. Robinson when she offers herself to him, and spends most of his summer avoiding having to deal with his life.  He tries desperately to avoid having to go on a date with Elaine, until he decides that he has no choice.

Main Character Solution

The date with Elaine is the start of a major shift for Ben.  He has finally found a future worthy of commitment.  When he tells his parents that he will be marrying Elaine, they immediately see the change in him (whether or not they think it’s a particularly wise decision).  Ben pursues her all the way to Santa Barbara, where he rescues Elaine from her family and her new husband.

Main Character Symptom

The effects of Ben’s problem of “avoidance” are felt in the area of “faith.”  Ben is expected to accept a lot on faith alone.  Plastics, for one. The idea that his future is assured.  Mrs. Robinson’s implicit threats about Elaine.  Everyone seems to have so much faith in him, but Ben himself has to wonder if it is warranted.  He has to convince Elaine of his story rather than her mother’s, though there really is no proof either way.

Main Character Response

Ben attempts to approach his difficulties using “disbelief.”  When Mrs. Robinson threatens to tell Elaine everything if Ben sees her again, he refuses to accept that threat and runs to tell her himself.  Even though he has a pretty fair idea that Elaine doesn’t like him after she learns about his affair with her mother, Ben cannot be persuaded that she doesn’t (or won’t) love him.  That’s why he pursues her.  Even when he sees that Elaine is already married, he doesn’t believe it’s over.

Main Character Unique Ability

Ben is very good at rationalizing his actions and feelings.  When Mrs. Braddock asks what Ben does at night, Ben tells her he just drives around.  He comes up with an elaborate ruse to prevent the hotel clerk from discovering his actual situation.  If he would just keep fabricating excuses for his behavior (like everyone else seems to do), he would probably achieve the goal that has been set out for him.

Main Character Critical Flaw

Unfortunately for Ben, his demeanor undermines his unique ability to achieve the goal.  Virtually everyone in the story misinterprets Ben’s attitude. In an attempt to prevent another date with Elaine, Ben puts on a disinterested, downright rude air, which backfires.  He realizes that his attitude has caused her pain, and she’s probably the only person in the world that he actually likes.  Ben’s parents can’t see past his attitude—unconcernedly wasting his life floating around the pool all summer long.

Main Character Benchmark

At first Ben has absolutely no idea what his future will bring, and he’s disturbed by this fact.  When he comes up with the idea of marrying Elaine, his entire future becomes clear.  Though he doesn’t know exactly how to implement his plan, he is certain that it will happen.  And so he sets off to marry Elaine.

Additional Main Character Information →
Main Character Description

At school Ben was the editor of the paper, a track star, winner of the Helpingham Scholarship. . . Yet while everything he has done has made his parents proud, Ben finds himself struggling with the fact that he has no idea what is his purpose in life.  Played by Dustin Hoffman in the film.

Main Character Throughline Synopsis

Ben has spent his entire life playing the role of the ideal son—doing what is expected of him.  When he arrives home from college, however, he is concerned about his future.  He wants it to be different, but doesn’t know in what way.  When Mrs. Robinson propositions him, Ben is at first appalled, but is soon drawn to the idea of an affair with her. Although it doesn’t necessarily make him happy or proud, he carries on the affair by night and floats around in the pool by day, still unsure of what he is to do with his future.  And though he resists for as long as he can, he is finally pressured into going on a date with Elaine, the Robinson’s daughter.  He tries to make it as painful for her as possible, in the hopes that she will never want to see him again.  When he sees how he has hurt Elaine through his insensitivity, he apologizes, and realizes that he is in love with her.  When Mrs. Robinson flatly refuses to allow him to see Elaine again, Ben tells her everything. Elaine makes him leave, but Ben discovers that he finally has a purpose—something he can commit himself to. He intends to marry Elaine. Knowing that she doesn’t like him very much because of what he has done, Ben sets out to change her mind.  He follows her to Berkeley, and ultimately, through his persistence and his refusal to believe that she doesn’t love him, he snatches her away from the jaws of marriage (to another) and together they hop a city bus to their future.

Main Character Backstory

Ben comes from a wealthy background—an ideal student and son. Somewhere along the way, however, Ben grew disillusioned, and started to find that everything he had worked for in his life was completely without purpose or meaning.  At the start of the film, Ben has just graduated from college and now has “his whole life ahead of him.”

Influence Character Throughline

Mrs. Robinson — Ben's Paramour

Influence Character Throughline

Mrs. Robinson is interested in little more than getting Ben into bed. She doesn’t want to discuss it; she doesn’t want to explain it. She just wants to shut up and do it. That is until Ben makes the mistake of dating Mrs. Robinson’s daughter. She then puts her entire being into preventing them from getting together, by any means necessary.

Influence Character Concern

At first Mrs. Robinson seems only interested in getting Ben into bed. In fact the way she manipulates Ben is through obtaining (“Ben, would you please get my purse?” “Did you get a room?”) She is very interested in controlling Ben (and Elaine) for herself. When Ben suggests seeing Elaine, Mrs. Robinson makes it very clear that Ben may not have Elaine, ever. When he challenges her, Mrs. Robinson takes Elaine from school, to ensure that he never sees her again.

Influence Character Issue

For the most part, Mrs. Robinson seems to do what she does for purely selfish reasons. She doesn’t seem to really care about Ben, or the issues that he is dealing with (as long as they don’t get directly in her way). There’s a moment that describes this, when Ben has just registered for the room and is calling Mrs. Robinson in the bar from the phone booth outside. Mrs. Robinson asks Ben if there’s something else he wants to tell her. For a moment, Ben thinking that she is doing this for him, begins to tell her how much he appreciates what she’s doing, etc., but Mrs. Robinson cuts him off and says he should tell her the room number. It’s clear that it has nothing to do with him. She’s doing this for herself.

Influence Character Counterpoint

When Ben suggests that he should date Elaine to find out more about Mrs. Robinson, she impresses upon him that he must never ever see Elaine. Ben interprets this behavior as Mrs. Robinson trying to protect Elaine.  It may even be what she thinks she’s doing—looking out for her daughter’s interests.  But is she?

Influence Character Thematic Conflict
Self-Interest vs.Morality

Mrs. Robinson struggles between doing what is best for herself and doing what is best for others.  While she claims to do what she does for the sake of her daughter, it’s more than likely that she really does everything (even “protecting” Elaine) for her own selfish purposes.

Influence Character Problem

Though Ben tries to avoid dealing with people at his coming home party, Mrs. Robinson directly detracts from his efforts for her own purposes.  When Ben suggests that he see Elaine (and in fact does), Mrs. Robinson is driven to stand directly in his way, determined to thwart him by any means necessary.  It is implied that Mrs. Robinson’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy was an obstruction to her own future.

Influence Character Solution

When Mrs. Robinson shows up in Ben’s room the night of the party, she is ostensibly there to enlist his help.  She needs a ride home.  She needs him to stay until Mr. Robinson gets home. She needs him to unzip her dress, get her purse, get the hotel room, get a coat hanger, etc.  As long as he complies, and helps to satisfy her needs, she’s perfectly content.

Influence Character Symptom

When Ben suggests enlisting Elaine’s support in order to find out more about the Robinsons, Mrs. Robinson takes this as a direct threat. She insists that Ben not talk about or see Elaine under any circumstances.

Influence Character Response

Mrs. Robinson strenuously opposes Ben’s dating Elaine. She informs Ben that she will tell Elaine everything if he continues pursuing her.

Influence Character Unique Ability

It’s Mrs. Robinson’s style that has the most impact on Ben.  Standing in front of the door naked, impressing the image of her body on his brain goes a long way toward compelling Ben to set aside all thoughts of his future.

Influence Character Critical Flaw

Mrs. Robinson attempts to make Ben swear that he will not see Elaine ever again.  In fact she insists on his accepting this rather one-sided agreement.  Unfortunately for her, Ben is in a stage of personal development where his knee-jerk reaction is to rebel against any edict.  Thus if Mrs. Robinson had perhaps asked Ben to stop seeing Elaine, for all the obvious reasons, she might well have been successful.  But because she demands it without explanation, he refuses to agree.

Influence Character Benchmark

The degree of Mrs. Robinson’s personal concern of “obtaining” can be measured in terms of “understanding.” Mrs. Robinson understands perfectly well what would happen if Ben and Elaine got together (even though Ben doesn’t). When Mrs. Robinson first tells Ben that she doesn’t want him to talk about Elaine, Ben wants to understand why, but Mrs. Robinson doesn’t want to discuss it, allowing him to make whatever of it that he will. But as it becomes clearer to her that he doesn’t understand the ramifications of his actions, she becomes more driven to set him straight. When he shows up at the Robinson house to take Elaine out on a second date, Mrs. Robinson makes absolutely sure that Ben understand exactly how strongly she feels about his dating Elaine.

More Influence Character Information →
Influence Character Description

Mrs. Robinson is described as Ben’s father’s business partner’s wife, Elaine’s mother, a family friend, and a broken down alcoholic. Played by Anne Bancroft in the film.

Influence Character Throughline Synopsis

When Ben arrives home from college, Mrs. Robinson propositions him, informing him that she is available to him at anytime. Though at first he is appalled at the idea, he eventually comes around. Mrs. Robinson has no interest in chit chat, she merely sees the relationship as a form of physical release.  When Ben pries into her past, she resists, and though the memories were perhaps painful once, she is now merely numb to them. It is only when Ben brings up the subject of Elaine that Mrs. Robinson kicks into gear. She doesn’t want Ben to talk about her daughter, much less see her socially. When Ben disregards her edict, she vows to prevent him from seeing Elaine ever again. When Ben accepts the challenge, Mrs. Robinson is true to her word, and does everything she can to destroy him.

Influence Character Backstory

Mrs. Robinson married Mr. Robinson while she was still in college (an art major), because a one night fling in the back of a Ford resulted in the birth of Elaine. She put aside whatever aspirations and dreams she may have had and dealt with her life in the best way she knew how, through alcohol and extramarital affairs.

Relationship Story Throughline

""Here's To You, Mrs. Robinson""

Relationship Story Throughline

The arena for the relationship (and conflict) between Ben and Mrs. Robinson is in their fixed attitudes. Both Ben and Mrs. Robinson are extremely stubborn individuals, and when they are not agreeing to disagree, they are involved in a battle of wills. For example, while Ben is determined to be left alone at his welcome home party, Mrs. Robinson is just as determined to get him home with her; when Ben wants to talk for a change, Mrs. Robinson is just as determined not to talk; while Mrs. Robinson insists that Ben not see Elaine, Ben is even more determined to disregard her edict and pursue Elaine.

Relationship Story Concern

Both Mrs. Robinson and Ben are deeply driven people.  What they disagree about are not surface issues, but deeply rooted drives and desires. Their relationship is certainly sexual, but goes to the much deeper issues of feeling unloved and having (or not having) a purpose in life.

Relationship Story Issue

The relationship between Ben and Mrs. Robinson is judged by their aspirations and levels of optimism.  For the most part, Mrs. Robinson is very confident that she will get her way in all things regarding Ben.  It is clear from the moment she arrives in his bedroom, that she fully intends and expects to have an affair with Ben.  She fully expects him to heed her decree that Ben not ever see Elaine.  Even when Ben arrives at their house after Elaine has been pulled from school to marry Carl, Mrs. Robinson is absolutely confident that there is nothing Ben can do about it.

Relationship Story Counterpoint

The other side of the subjective story’s thematic coin deals with shattered dreams.  When Ben talks to Mrs. Robinson, he learns that she was an art major, but became pregnant with Elaine and left her dreams behind.  Ben at first has no particular aspirations, but when he goes on his date with Elaine, he realizes that he is in love with her.  His relationship with Mrs. Robinson, however, makes any hope for a long term relationship with Elaine little more than a pipe dream.

Relationship Story Thematic Conflict
Hope vs.Dream

Is it better to only aspire to that which you actually have a hope of achieving, or should one hold on to one’s dreams at all costs?  That’s the passionate thematic question that gets played out in The Graduate.  Mrs. Robinson left her dreams in the dust many years ago and ultimately became “a broken down alcoholic,” while Ben goes after his impossible dream (Elaine), and ends up happily running away with her.  The final judgment seems to encourage holding onto dreams.

Relationship Story Problem

Ben tries everything he can think of to get out of driving Mrs. Robinson home from his party.  When she has him trapped in Elaine’s room, Ben tries desperately to escape, especially when he hears Mr. Robinson’s car pulling up the drive.  When Ben tries to elicit a conversation from Mrs. Robinson, she avoids answering any of his questions, which frustrates him.  Mrs. Robinson tries to prevent Ben from seeing Elaine, and even tries to make him steer clear of talking about her.  When Ben doesn’t heed her advice, there is great friction between them.

Relationship Story Solution

When Ben stops avoiding Mrs. Robinson and takes active steps to pursue her (calling her from the hotel), they are in accord.  There is no conflict between them.  And yet it’s actually the lack of pursuit that would allow Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s relationship to continue to flourish (to the extent that that’s possible).  All that is specifically required is that Ben not pursue Elaine.  If he would simply not go after her, as Mrs. Robinson decrees, the relationship between them would continue along just as it has been (at least until the day that Ben ultimately decides to go on to graduate school or into business).

Relationship Story Symptom

The difficulties between Ben and Mrs. Robinson seem to center on Ben’s tendency to overthink their relationship.  Mrs. Robinson is just in it for the sex.  Ben is prone to giving much consideration to the whys and wherefores of their relationship, wanting to know for instance, how she gets out of the house every night and what she says to Mr. Robinson.  When Mrs. Robinson tells Ben not to talk about Elaine, he questions her motivations and wants to understand why she insists upon decree.  By the time their conversation is over, they both realize that some issues are better left alone.

Relationship Story Response

Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s efforts are directed toward each making the other reconsider their respective positions.  Although at first Ben seems shocked by the idea of an affair with Mrs. Robinson, he later reconsiders and agrees to meet her at the Taft Hotel.  When Ben half-jokingly suggests asking Elaine out, Mrs. Robinson makes him immediately reconsider that thought.  When Ben actually takes Elaine on a date and makes plans for another, Mrs. Robinson shows up in the rain to demand that Ben reconsider his actions.

Relationship Story Catalyst

Acts of resolution are what acts to move the subjective story forward.  When Mrs. Robinson announces to Ben she is available, he runs off, due in part to the arrival of Mr. Robinson.  But the question is left hanging—until he addresses it, there will be no rest between them.  He calls her from the Taft Hotel, and takes her up on her offer.  When he tries to get personal information from Mrs. Robinson, she gives none.  When he suggests asking Elaine out in order to put the issue to rest, Mrs. Robinson immediately demands that he not discuss Elaine, let alone see her.

Relationship Story Inhibitor

Ben and Mrs. Robinson are two extremely narrow-minded people.  It is only when one or the other backs down, even slightly, that any progress is made in their relationship.  At the start, Ben refuses Mrs. Robinson’s advances because of his own preconceptions about her.  She is after all Elaine’s mother, and his father’s partner’s wife.  Initially Ben has a great deal of trouble dealing with her as an object of sexual desire.  They both have very different opinions on the Ben/Elaine relationship.  And when the subject is brought up, there is nowhere for their conversation to go.  Consequently, in these moments they are either driven to silence, or completely away from each other.

Relationship Story Benchmark

The growth of Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s relationship is minimal, however one instance of closeness is illustrated using “memory.”  There’s a wonderful moment in the scene where Ben is trying desperately to have a conversation with Mrs. Robinson.  Having been asked what she might want to talk about, Mrs. Robinson grudgingly suggests art, but then says that she knows nothing about it.  Ben continues to push, trying to elicit stories of her circumstances, past and present.  Throughout the entire scene, although Ben doesn’t see it, Mrs. Robinson’s face has a slightly pained expression, as she is forced to recall her life since meeting Mr. Robinson.  Finally, Ben discovers that Mrs. Robinson was in fact an art major.  He supposes that she probably just lost interest in the subject over the years, but it is clear in that moment her dreams have just been too painful to hold onto.

Additional Relationship Story Information →
Relationship Story Throughline Synopsis

When Ben arrives home from college, he doesn’t want to talk with anyone at all.  He tries to hide in his room, but Mrs. Robinson shows up and asks for a ride home.  As reluctant as Ben is, Mrs. Robinson is even more persistent.  He drives her home.  She asks if Ben will walk her to the door and come inside.  He doesn’t want to, but she insists.  He goes inside with her, and tries to leave, but she stalls him with drinks, puts on some music, and tells him that her husband won’t be home for hours.  Ben finally gets it.  “Mrs. Robinson,” he says, “You’re trying to seduce me.”  Mrs. Robinson laughs and Ben apologizes profusely.  She offers to show Ben a painting of Elaine.  Thankful for the distraction, Ben agrees, and they head for Elaine’s bedroom.  Ben starts to leave, but the next thing he knows, Mrs. Robinson has locked the door and is standing before him, stark naked.  Ben asks her to move, but Mrs. Robinson tells him that she is available to him at any time.  Only when they hear Mr. Robinson pull up, does Ben escape.  A few days later, Ben calls Mrs. Robinson from the Taft Hotel, and indicates that he’d like to take her up on her offer.  After a few terribly awkward moments, they get a room and begin their affair.  The affair continues for some time.  One night, Ben wants to talk for a change, instead of just hopping into bed.  Mrs. Robinson doesn’t want to talk.  He eventually finds out a bit about Mrs. Robinson, her marriage to Mr. Robinson, and the circumstances surrounding Elaine’s conception.  When Mrs. Robinson tells Ben she doesn’t want him talking about Elaine, Ben jokingly suggests that he should ask her out to find out why.  Mrs. Robinson nearly hits the roof.  She makes Ben swear that he will never, ever ask Elaine out.  Ben is offended, assuming that Mrs. Robinson doesn’t think he’s good enough for Elaine.  When she confirms his suspicion, Ben calls her a broken down alcoholic and says that their relationship sickens and disgusts him.  After an awkward moment, they decide to put the whole conversation behind them.  After being pressured by his parents and Mr. Robinson, Ben takes Elaine out for a date.  Mrs. Robinson is furious.  When Ben asks Elaine out for a second date, Mrs. Robinson threatens to tell Elaine everything.  Ben goes directly to Elaine to beat Mrs. Robinson to the punch.  Elaine tells him to leave.  The affair with Mrs. Robinson is over.  From this point on, the actual contact between Mrs. Robinson and Ben is minimal, but is still addressed in Ben’s conversations with Elaine and Mr. Robinson.  When Ben arrives at the Robinson’s home searching for Elaine, Mrs. Robinson is extremely nonchalant.  She calmly calls the police, and informs Ben that Elaine is getting married.

Relationship Story Backstory

Mrs. Robinson is “the partner’s wife.”  She is a long time family friend, and probably the last person in the world with whom Ben ever thought he’d have an affair.  Mrs. Robinson’s marriage to Mr. Robinson has been something of a sham.  They married for the sake of Elaine (this would have happened in the 1940’s), and the timing and the circumstances just happened to be ripe for their affair.

Additional Story Points

Key Structural Appreciations

Overall Story Goal

“There’s a great future in plastics,” Mr. McQuire tells Ben. A particular future is the goal that all of the adults in the story (especially Ben’s parents) have imposed upon Ben. It’s not actually his own goal, and isn’t even one which Ben actively pursues for himself.

Overall Story Consequence

The story goal in The Graduate is not actually met. Ben ultimately disappoints everyone by following his heart (his subconscious desires) and going after what really drives him, instead of his once promising future.

Overall Story Cost

Ben has to suffer the humiliation of acquiring a hotel room; Ben (temporarily) loses Elaine; The affair with Mrs. Robinson ends; Ben doesn’t have change to call Elaine after talking to Mr. Robinson; The Robinsons’ marriage ends in divorce; Ben runs out of gas on the way to the church; Carl loses his bride.

Overall Story Dividend

On his birthday, Ben’s father refers to him as no longer a boy, but a “young man.”  In the montage that occurs after the affair has begun, Ben has clearly changed (for better or worse) from the brooding kid that he was in the opening scenes to a brooding adult, dealing with adult problems.

Overall Story Requirements

If the goal is to be met (and in this case it isn’t) the past must remain where it is.  People must leave behind what has already occurred.  If Mr. Robinson would just let bygones be bygones, as Ben suggests, everything might have worked itself out. If Ben would simply accept the fact that Elaine is already married by the time he arrives at the church, and leave quietly, there might still be a chance that the original goal can be met.  But he doesn’t.

Overall Story Prerequisites

Ben forces Mrs. Robinson to recall how she met Mr. Robinson, how Elaine was conceived, etc., so that Ben might have a better understanding of the past.

Overall Story Preconditions

Mrs. Braddock wants to understand what Ben does with his nights. Mr. Braddock wants to understand why Ben spends his days drifting in the pool, and why he refuses to ask Elaine out on a date. Although the clerk doesn’t require it, Ben feels he must explain his every action to prevent him from coming to the wrong conclusion.

Overall Story Forewarnings

After Elaine has returned to Berkeley, Ben announces to his parents that he will be marrying her. When they discover that Ben hasn’t even discussed this with Elaine, they question his decision. But Ben has been thinking about it for some time and has clearly visualized its realization. It’s a definite sign that Ben is not thinking rationally about his future. Later, when Ben and Elaine are in Berkeley, and Ben is pressing Elaine for a wedding date, she wonders why Ben doesn’t just drag her away. Ben likes the idea, and says he will.

Plot Progression

Dynamic Act Appreciations

Overall Story

Overall Story Signpost 1

Ben arrives home from college and everyone is impressed with his past achievements. He was a track star, editor of the school paper, Frank Helpingham Scholar winner, etc.  His welcome home party is populated with the adults of his past—ready to guide his future.

Overall Story Journey 1 from Past to Progress

Ben’s birthday. Mr. Braddock, in showing of his son’s new birthday present, points out that Ben is no longer a boy, but a young man, ready to continue his education as a Frank Helpingham Award scholar. But Ben is resistant.

Overall Story Signpost 2

Ben’s parents are concerned that he doesn’t seem to be making any progress toward his future. As Mr. Braddock puts it, “it’s a fine thing to take some time off and have a few beers but after a few a weeks one might want to start taking stock in himself and his situation and get off his ass.” Ben’s parents confront him about the fact that, despite numerous suggestions, Ben has made no progress in asking out Elaine Robinson. It isn’t until Mrs. Braddock says she has no choice but to invite the entire Robinson family to dinner, that Ben changes his mind.

Overall Story Journey 2 from Progress to Future

Although Ben does his best to ruin his date with Elaine, ensuring that this aspect of his life progresses no further, he finds himself falling in love with Elaine. After spending the evening with her, he says he wants to see her again.

Overall Story Signpost 3

Although Mrs. Robinson specifically stands in the way of any future plans that Ben and Elaine may have, Ben, in order to save that future, runs to tell Elaine everything. When she throws him out of the house, Ben tells his parents that he intends to marry Elaine, and goes to Berkeley to win her back. Before long there is the chance, however remote, that Elaine will actually marry him.

Overall Story Journey 3 from Future to Present

Just when it looks as though Ben and Elaine will have a future together, Mr. Robinson shows up in Ben’s room in Berkeley. He informs Ben that he has spent the afternoon taking steps to ensure that Ben will never see Elaine again, and furthermore, “as far as Elaine is concerned, you’re to get her out of your filthy mind right now.”  This has the effect of turning the focus from the future to an immediate need to set things right.

Overall Story Signpost 4

Ben races to find Elaine. When he arrives in L.A., Mrs. Robinson informs him that Elaine is getting married. Ben races back up to Berkeley and learns that Elaine and Carl, “the Make Out King,” are at that very moment getting married in Santa Barbara. Ben arrives to find the wedding having just concluded, and calls out to Elaine. When she sees him, she calls out his name. Ben grabs her, and the two of them hop a city bus and run away.  For the moment at least, Ben and Elaine have defied their parents and are happy to set out for a future that is of their own making.

Main Character

Main Character Signpost 1

Ben is trying very hard to visualize his future. It is clear that everyone else has a definite plan for him, but Ben finds himself wondering what it is he wants. When Mrs. Robinson comes into the picture, it offers Ben an opportunity to imagine an alternative to the plans and goals set forth for him by his parents.

Main Character Journey 1 from Conceptualizing to Becoming

When Ben and Mrs. Robinson are in the hotel room for the first time, Ben stops them.  “Can you imagine what my parents would say if they saw us here in this room together?”  Mrs. Robinson asks if this is his first time, commenting that the fear of being inadequate is perfectly understandable.  At that moment, Ben realizes that he has to change.  He must commit to becoming a man.  And he does.

Main Character Signpost 2

Ben is aware that he is changing, though he fears it is for the worse. He interprets Mrs. Robinson’s refusal to let him near Elaine as confirmation that he is not good enough for Elaine. He is becoming something that he is not proud of at all. Yet he knows that he can’t go back.

Main Character Journey 2 from Becoming to Conceiving

At the drive in, Ben tells Elaine that he has changed since he graduated, that he’s had this compulsion to be rude all the time. It is somewhere during this revelation that Ben realizes that Elaine is the first person that he has liked and could stand to be with in a long time. He knows at that moment that he must see her again.

Main Character Signpost 3

After much soul searching (moping around) Ben has come up with the idea that he must marry Elaine, and spends the better part of his time in Berkeley trying to convince her of this.  She doesn’t see how the idea can possibly be implemented, but that doesn’t concern Ben.  He just wants to know when they can be married.

Main Character Journey 3 from Conceiving to Being

When Mr. Robinson shows up in Ben’s room, Ben’s concern shifts from trying to get Elaine to accept the idea that they should be together, to the awareness that Elaine is being forced into becoming something that she is not. Yes, she is getting married, but Ben knows that if she were to get married to Carl, she would spend her life living under the same kind of pretense that Mrs. Robinson has lived for most of her adult life. That’s why he has to go to Santa Barbara, to prevent her from having to live a lie, and to take on the role of bridegroom for himself.

Main Character Signpost 4

Ben, to find out where Elaine is getting married, pretends to be a friend of Carl’s (the Make Out King), and later, on the phone with Dr. Smith’s answering service, he pretends to be Dr. Smith’s brother, Reverend Smith.

Influence Character

Influence Character Signpost 1

From the first time we see her, Mrs. Robinson is on the prowl. She is clearly after Ben. Though she tells Ben that she needs a ride home, and that she is afraid of being in her own house by herself, it’s simply a ruse. She is in fact trying to seduce Ben, and she doesn’t really even deny it.

influence Character Journey 1 from Obtaining to Doing

Now that Mrs. Robinson has Ben’s attention, she engages in sexual relations with him almost nightly.

Influence Character Signpost 2

Mrs. Robinson isn’t interested in talking or discussing anything. She simply wants to engage in the physical activity of sex.

Influence Character Journey 2 from Doing to Learning

Mrs. Robinson’s affair with Ben comes to a halt when she learns he wishes to pursue a relationship with her daughter.  To stop this from happening, she informs Elaine that Ben had taken advantage of her drunken state and raped her.  The falsehood effectively compels Elaine to sever her ties to Benjamin.

Influence Character Signpost 3

Mrs. Robinson learns that Ben has transferred his affections from her to Elaine.

Influence Character Journey 3 from Learning to Understanding

The damning information about Mrs. Robinson’s affair with Benjamin is only temporarily effective in stopping the relationship between him and her daughter.  When Elaine runs out of the church, Mrs. Robinson tells her it’s too late.  Elaine’s response is “Not for me, mother.”  With that, both mother and daughter appreciate that Mrs. Robinson’s experiences in affairs (and affairs of the heart) will not be passed on to her daughter.

Influence Character Signpost 4

Despite her anger, Mrs. Robinson understands that Elaine is not willing to make the same mistakes that she has.  Elaine is willing to follow her dreams.

Relationship Story

Relationship Story Signpost 1

Ben entreats Mrs. Robinson to forget that he suggested she may have tried to seduce him; When she appears naked in front of him, she makes certain Benjamin will not forget her offer to be available to him, anytime.

Relationship Story Journey 1 from Memory to PreconsciousIt is clear that Ben does not forget Mrs. Robinson's advances when he telephones her for a date. Mrs. Robinson's response to his call is immediate: Benjamin: I was thinking about that time after the party. . . Mrs. Robinson: Where are you? Benjamin: And I was wondering if I could by you a drink, or something. . . Mrs. Robinson: Where are you? Benjamin: Uh, the Taft Hotel. Mrs. Robinson: Did you get a room? Benjamin: No. Now I know it's pretty late, and if you'd rather. . . Mrs. Robinson: Give me an hour. As the affair progresses, Ben's recollections of any initial reticence fades as he and Mrs. Robinson give in to their sexual impulses.
Relationship Story Signpost 2

While he is shaving, Mrs. Braddock queries Benjamin about what he does with his nights, and if he sees someone.  His reflex is to lie about his relationship with Mrs. Robinson.  His physical reflex is to cut his neck.  Mrs. Robinson’s kneejerk reaction to Ben’s joke about seeing Elaine is to make him promise never to do so.

Relationship Story Journey 2 from Preconscious to Subconscious

When Mrs. Robinson threatens Benjamin with telling Elaine the truth, his immediate response is to beat her to the punch.  Both Ben and Mrs. Robinson are driven to protect and love Elaine, but it is this drive that destroys the relationship between the two of them.

Relationship Story Signpost 3

Ben shifts his desire from fulfilling his physical lusts with Mrs. Robinson to romantic love with her daughter.

Relationship Story Journey 3 from Subconscious to Conscious

Ben is now flying in the face of logic.  He races into Elaine’s bedroom, absolutely driven to rescue Elaine, but instead finds himself face to face with Mrs. Robinson.  The tide turns quickly as Mrs. Robinson calmly announces that Elaine is getting married.  She calls the police and tells them that Ben is a burglar.  The stakes are high—if Ben continues to cross Mrs. Robinson, he will end up in jail.

Relationship Story Signpost 4

Although dealt with rather sparsely in the film, in the fourth subjective story signpost, both Ben and Mrs. Robinson are completely aware of the consequences of what they are doing, and have both given great consideration to their actions. Although they don’t say a word to each other, this is their moment of greatest conflict. Ben has decided, no matter what the consequences, to go completely against Mrs. Robinson’s suggestions and demands, and takes Elaine from the church.

Plot Progression Visualizations

Dynamic Act Schematics


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