A Journal on “The Graduate”

Prompt: “What’s with the fish tank? The scuba suit?

Throughout The Graduate, a recently graduated young man, Ben, is seen interacting with water. In the film, there are fish tanks, scuba suits, and swimming pools. The water is a place where Ben disassociates from his life.

The fish tank in Ben’s room is the first initial examples of water imagery in the film. Following the opening party scene, Ben initially retreats to his room. After he gazes out into his backyard, at his parent’s friends and their pool, he breathes a sigh and situates himself in front of his aquarium. Overwhelmed, Ben finds himself tracking the fish in their small home of captivity. After Mrs. Robinson asks Ben to take her home, she tosses the keys into the tank, and he is seen searching in the water for them.

In that scene, his watching of the fish can be seen as him seeing himself. He is confined, by his parents, his house, and expectations. The fish are confined by the tank. He is watching them swim around, helpless to their circumstances, which is exactly how Ben felt during the barrage of comments, advice, and questions of his family’s guests. When he is searching for his keys in the water, this is a symbol of him searching for a way out. The keys to the red car, a symbol of success in his life, are drowning in the water, much like how he feels in his post graduation crisis of not know what to do with himself.

As the film goes on, Ben can be seen looking at the fish tank. When he is extremely depressed, he is seen pushing cigarette ash off of the table that the tank sits upon. He looks drained, emotionally exhausted, and empty as he gazes at the tank. Ben looks at the aquarium in moments of confusion and unsureness, and throughout the film it serves to accompany moments of Ben’s painful self reflection.

The second water motif in the film is Ben’s scuba suit. While a scuba diver would typically be an explorer, in Ben’s case, it represents being trapped. In the film he is pushed into the water by his father, effectively trapped in the suit by both the confines of water and the expectations of his family. The use of force in the scuba suit scenes signals the amount of pressure and lack of autonomy that Ben feels. Another time, when his mother threatens to invite the Robinson’s over for dinner, Ben submerges himself once again. The pool and scuba suit is both a symbol of his confinement, and of his comfort when he lacks a sense of control.

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