Having just graduated from college, Benjamin Braddock is a magnet for advice from older friends of the family. One of those adults, Mr. McGuire, has just one word for Benjamin: “plastics.” Referring to the lucrative promises of going into a career in the plastics industry, Mr. McGuire represents the worst of the unsolicited advisors surrounding Benjamin post-graduation. While McGuire believes that his advice is wise and well-timed, it only casts him in a comically superficial light, trying so hard to be helpful, but only alienating Benjamin further.
“Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you?”
In this moment of the film, Benjamin, having grown increasingly suspicious of Mrs. Robinson's body language and inviting behavior, has grown so anxious that he can no longer contain himself. Flustered and ashamed of his attraction to Mrs. Robinson, Benjamin accuses her of trying seducing him, after she puts on seductive music, puts her leg up on a barstool, and engages in intimate conversation. Benjamin is pushed to the limit in this moment, and compelled to question his parents' friend. However, Benjamin is not confident in his own perceptions and accusations, which he reveals when he adds a sheepish, "aren't you?" In the film, Dustin Hoffman leaves a comical amount of space between his initial accusation and the "aren't you?," and in this moment, the viewer sees Benjamin as a young man trying to gain control of his life, but second guessing himself at every turn, a boy simultaneously repelled and attracted by his circumstances.
“Well, I would say that I'm just drifting. Here in the pool.”
This quote is directed to Benjamin's father, who has grown impatient with Benjamin's loafing following the beginning of his affair with Mrs. Robinson, and wonders aloud why he paid for Benjamin to go to an expensive college if all he is going to do is sunbathe. This quote shows Benjamin's defiance of his father's expectations, and also his aimlessness and confusion about what he will do next. Drifting around in the pool is also a broader metaphor for the ways that Benjamin is choosing to drift through his own post-collegiate life.
“Are you here for an affair, sir?”
When Benjamin approaches the front desk at the Taft Hotel, the hotel clerk is simply asking whether Benjamin is attending the party for the Singlemans that is taking place at the hotel. Given what we know about Benjamin's actual reasons for being there, as well as his paranoia about being found out, the hotel clerk's questions sounds like it is directly accusing Benjamin of coming to the hotel for a sexual affair. The use of the word "affair," which could alternately mean sexual relationship or social function, becomes a comic point of ambiguity.
“It's like I was playing some kind of game, but the rules don't make any sense to me. They're being made up by all the wrong people. I mean no one makes them up. They seem to make themselves up.”
This moment represents an articulation of Benjamin's central existential hang-up, which he articulates to Elaine in the car at the drive-up restaurant. In this quote, Benjamin vocalizes the creeping sense of dread and anxiety he has about entering the adult world, and having to play by its rules. He sees his life stretching out before him as a game over which he has no control. Speaking very generally, Benjamin describes the world as a senseless and arbitrary place, where nothing quite makes sense.
While we have been given clues to Benjamin's disillusionment before, this moment marks the first time in the film he genuinely and openly communicates to another person: Elaine. Benjamin's ability to be so frank with Elaine shows the viewer that they share a special connection, and makes us more invested in their love.
“Elaine! Elaine! Elaine! Elaine!"
Just at the moment that Elaine is about to marry Carl in Santa Barbara, Benjamin bangs on the glass, interrupting the nuptials and calling out to his true love. Having been unable to articulate what he wants for the entire beginning of the movie, Benjamin is finally able to call out for the person he loves the most. This moment shows Benjamin at his most desperate, but it is through that desperation and that desire that he finally expresses a proactive want, however disruptive that want might be. He does not need to say anything else but Elaine's name, and the simplicity of his calling out proves one of the movie's most evocative moments.
If you won't sleep with me this time I want you to know that you can call me up anytime you want and we'll make some kind of arrangement.
After seducing him the entire night, but denying it, Mrs. Robinson finally delivers this line to Benjamin standing naked in front of him in Elaine's room. Her bald-faced sexual proposition reveals her bluntness, her boldness, and also her desperation. Mrs. Robinson shamelessly extends an open invitation to sleep with her whenever he wants, and she does so without hesitation. Her tone is both extremely straightforward and pragmatic, suggesting they make an "arrangement." Exasperated with her failed attempts to seduce him, Mrs. Robinson effectually gives Benjamin her card and sends him on his way, foreshadowing the extent to which she thinks of sex as physical and contractual.
Mrs. Robinson: Elaine, it's too late!
Elaine: Not for me!
When Benjamin shows up at Elaine's wedding, Mrs. Robinson becomes terrified that Elaine will run away with him, and tells her it is "too late." Elaine's response, however, is surprising and impulsive. She defies her mother and runs away with Benjamin. This quote reveals the huge rift between mother and daughter. Both women have shared connections with Benjamin, Mrs. Robinson sexually and Elaine romantically, and their respective relationships have come into conflict with one another. This moment also marks the moment in which we see Elaine following her heart and her love of Benjamin rather than follow the scripted, prescribed life laid out by her parents. In saying it is not too late for her to run away with Benjamin, Elaine decides that she is willing to risk being shunned by her family and community in order to choose her own way and to be with the man she loves.
Elaine: Benjamin...Will you kiss me?
Benjamin: Will you marry me? You won't?
Elaine: I don't know.
Benjamin: But you might?
Elaine: I might.
Benjamin: Is that so? You might marry me?
When Elaine comes to Benjamin's room in the middle of the night, she ambiguously suggests that she loves him and that she wants to be with him, but she does not say so directly or definitively. Up until this point, Elaine has made no indications that she still loves or believes Benjamin, but in this moment, she insinuates that she might be able to love him again. Elaine's encouragement, however vague and confusing, is what motivates Benjamin to try and win her back boldly and recklessly.
I wish I was that age again because Ben...you'll never be young again......Ben, can I say something to you?...uh, how long have we known each other now? How long have you and I known each other? How long have your dad and I been partners?...I watched you grow up, Ben...In many ways, I feel as though you were my own son...So I hope you won't mind my giving you a friendly piece of advice...I think you ought to be taking it a little easier right now than you seem to be...Sow a few wild oats, take things as they come, have a good time with the girls and so forth...You have yourself a few flings this summer.
When Mr. Robinson comes home to find Benjamin sitting at his bar after bringing Mrs. Robinson home, he gives Benjamin some advice: to make the most of his youth, to have some fun and experiment. This quote reveals that Mr. Robinson misses being young and wishes he had known how quickly youth fades. Mr. Robinson projects his own regrets and desire for freedom onto Benjamin. Additionally, this moment marks an instance of dramatic irony, as Mr. Robinson encourages Ben to have fun and experiment sexually, but what he does not know is that his own wife propositioned Benjamin immediately prior to this. His encouraging Benjamin to "sow a few wild oats" seems, comedically enough, like an invitation to sleep with Mrs. Robinson.
The Graduate Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Graduate is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.