Recently, I found an article on Trem.info where the author analyzes the 1967 film adaptation of the 1963 novel “The Graduate” and states that the film hasn’t aged well, and that Ben might be seen as a “creep” by 2020 standards. You can read the article here.
After reading the referred post, I have to say that to understand “The Graduate,” the novel and the film, you have to analyze them in the context in which both works were written.
1967 was the year of the inception of the counterculture movement. In the spring of 1967 herds of youngsters gathered in San Francisco in what was later known as “The Summer Of Love,” a celebration of life, love, and freedom. It resulted from the rigid behavioral canons that reigned in society after World War II up to that point. Such standards had their origin in the Victorian society of the end of the 19th and the beginning of the XX century.
There was also the Vietnam war. Young men and women felt they had to fight because the previous generation wanted them to do so, not because they thought it was right or necessary. They viewed it as an imposition. Very young men were losing their lives in the process. JFK had been assassinated 4 years before and the Civil Right movement was at its height.
To say it in simple words, youngsters the same age as Ben (he is supposed to be 20 although Hoffmann was already in his 30s when he played the character), broke with those behavioral standards, and rebelled against them. We have to understand that at the time they were in the process of doing so. It was, we could say, a trial-and-error effort.
Ben was written by the author as a young man who feels and knows that there is something wrong around him that has to be fought against, but he doesn’t know what it is and how to fight it. The circumstances that make Ben unhappy and lost are clearly the domination of his parents, who make him comply with things he doesn’t agree upon, such as the welcome party they throw when he arrives from school. His parent’s impositions symbolize the stiff rules, conducts, and social codes that the younger generation felt as a threat they had to endure and that Ben’s generation was starting to rebel against.
His erratic behavior manifests the sense of loss his generation was living in. He was in the process of finding himself in such complicated circumstances. His response was to get involved with his father’s business partner’s wife, which is clearly a huge mistake. But that kind of mistake occurs in people’s lives when individuals are out of sorts, as Ben was.
Such behavior happens to EVERY ADOLESCENT and YOUNG ADULT who is simply learning how to live life. Yes, Ben was written in the novel by Charles Webb comically and living extreme circumstances. Nevertheless, you have to see him in the context of the times he lived in and the age he was when all this happened. He is more a tragic figure than a creep.
I can’t stop thinking right now, as I write this, of the people in his 20s that are living 2020’s social and economical upheaval all around the world. That is the coronavirus, BLM movement, the influence of social media, wars, the Presidential election in the USA, and more. I am pretty sure they somehow feel like Ben in 1967 and are making a lot of mistakes trying to find themselves in this mess. After all, mistakes are the trace we leave behind as evidence of the steps we take when we are learning to live life in the circumstances that we find on this planet.