wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

The Graduate - Success and EthicsThe Graduate - Success and Ethics


The Graduate (1967)


Famous for...

  • Making Dustin Hoffman (as Benjamin Braddock) a star. His roommate, Gene Hackman, was fired from the part of Mr. Robinson. The Graduate - Success and Ethics
  • Mrs. Robinson’s attempted seduction of Benjamin in a hotel room.
  • Simon and Garfunkel’s (pictured right in the 1960's) music including the big hits Mrs. Robinson and The Sounds of Silence.

Set in...

1960’s California.

 The Graduate - Success and Ethics


Mike Nichols (pictured right).



One (best director).

 The Graduate - Success and Ethics

Key characters

Benjamin (Ben) Braddock (Dustin Hoffman), 21-year-old, just graduated from university.

Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), suburban housewife, pictured right.

Elaine Robinson (Katherine Ross), her daughter.

The story

Benjamin (Ben) Braddock is bored and uncomfortable at his graduation party in his parents’ home in Pasadena (a rich Los Angeles suburb).The Graduate - Success and Ethics

After one of their friends (Mr. McGuire) suggests he gets a job in the plastics industry, he reluctantly drives home Mrs. Robinson, the attractive and alcoholic wife of his father’s business partner. She appears naked before him, when Mr. Robinson arrives back .

Soon after Ben's 21st birthday party,they anonymously check into a hotel room (pictured right), where their affair begins.

His distant relationship with his parents is shown when Ben appears to walk directly from their dining room into the hotel room he shares with Mrs. Robinson.

Ben:The Graduate - Success and Ethics

  • rejects his father’s suggestion to do postgraduate studies.
  • spends the summer lounging around his parents' pool and sleeping with Mrs. Robinson.

Unaware of the affair, Mr. Robinson (pictured right) and Ben’s parents urge him to date the Robinsons’ daughter, Elaine. He finally agrees, despite Mrs. Robinson forcibly telling him never to do it.

Ben tries to make the date a disaster, humiliating her at a strip club, where she storms out. He is overcome with guilt and soon after apologizes and kisses her.The Graduate - Success and Ethics

Mrs. Robinson violently tells him to end the relationship, prompting Ben to confess their affair to Elaine (pictured right together). The shock is soon revealed to his parents and  Mr. Robinson (who then seeks a divorce).

Despite threats from Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, Ben:

  • refuses to give up Elaine.
  • follows her to the University of California in Berkeley (where she is a student).

Mr. and Mrs. Robinson encourage her to marry someone else.

He runs out of gas (petrol) on his way to stop her wedding, forcing him to run the final few blocks. He arrives at the church, pounding on the upstairs window and shouting “Elaine! Elaine!” Mayhem ensues when she cries “Ben!”The Graduate - Success and Ethics

After a violent struggle with Elaine’s parents and wedding guests, Ben locks them in the church with a large cross bolted through the front door.

They escape on a bus, but their smiles turn into a neutral expression (pictured right), as the gravity of what they’ve done sinks in. Can they work things out?


Lessons for success and ethics


1. Be true to yourselfThe Graduate - Success and Ethics

Ben learns that he must:

  • live his own life with Elaine.
  • not blindly conform to what his parents and their friends want for him (like going into the plastics industry).

At the end of the film, Ben and Elaine realize their problems, but they have the opportunity to work things out themselves.The Graduate - Success and Ethics


2. Money isn’t everything

Ben wants to do something more useful and worthwhile than just make money. This is why he rejects Mr. McGuire’s suggestion to go into plastics.

Mrs. Robinson is rich and unhappy. She’s a bored housewife who exploits Ben to fill the spiritual vacuum in her life.


3. Hate hypocrisyThe Graduate - Success and Ethics

Mrs. Robinson is outwardly respectable but a deceitful adulteress who lures the sexually naive Ben into an affair.

Ben's use of a cross to lock the wedding guests in the church symbolizes how hypocritical church goers can be, saying one thing and doing another.


4. Purpose is precious

Ben and Mrs. Robinson’s affair arose partly out of boredom. She doesn’t see much of her:

  • hard working husband.
  • daughter, Elaine (who has left home to go to university).

Ben is bored, because he hasn’t worked out what to do with his life yet. He compares life to a game whose  “rules don't make any sense to me”.

 The Graduate - Success and Ethics

5. Love isn’t just sex

Mrs. Robinson just wants sex, but Ben and Elaine fall in love, because they’re friends as well.

Hopefully their relationship will survive the legacy of their poisonous past.


6. Sin is seductive but soul destroyingThe Graduate - Success and Ethics

Mrs. Robinson’s affair with Ben destroys her:

  • marriage.
  • relationship with her daughter.

Self-restraint would have saved herself much misery.

Ben will always regret the affair, because it casts a shadow over his relationship with Elaine.


7. Communication is coolThe Graduate - Success and Ethics

Ben and Elaine’s relationship will only work, if they understand each other through honest and effective communication.

Their inability to share their feelings and problems with their parents is disastrous. None of the adults’ forenames are mentioned in the film, indicating the distant relationship with their children.

The film's opening song by Simon and Garfunkel, The Sounds of Silence, says it all:

“People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening”.

 The Graduate - Success and Ethics

8. Trust is terrific

Relationships depend on trust. Mrs. Robinson's affair destroys her marriage and relationship with Elaine.


9. Forget the past and live for the future

Ben and Elaine have a future together, if they can forget:

  • Ben's affair.The Graduate - Success and Ethics

  • the hostility of their families.


10. Keep your self-respect

Bored and lonely Mrs. Robinson destroys her life and self-respect with alcohol and her affair with Ben.



Key quote on careers

Ben... I just want to say one word to you – just one word – plastics, Mr. McGuire.


Key quotes on relationships

Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?, Ben.

I think you’re the most attractive of all my parents’ friends, Ben (to Mrs. Robinson)


Key quote on happiness

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, Ben (to Elaine) 


Two film websites to recommend

1. filmsite.org (run by Tim Dirks).

2. aveleyman.com (run by Tony Sullivan)

Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books