Coming of age is a very difficult for many young men. Often a young man, is troubled about his future and does not want to. Even though they go to and graduate college, they do not know what they want to be or do with their life. In the Novella, Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth, Neil Klugman is a graduate who works at a library. Throughout the novella he struggles with the control of his own life and what he wants to do with his life. Similar to Neil, Ben Braddock, a college graduate in Mike Nichols film, The Graduate, struggles with his future and being controlled everyone but himself. Neil and Ben, are both successful in their own quests to come of age because they take control of their own lives.
At the beginning of the novella Neil does not have control over his life. Neil’s relationship with Brenda begins when he first holds her glasses. That is the first time it is seen that Neil does not have control. The next time Neil and Brenda go to the pool, Brenda makes Neil race her brother when he does not want to. “ ‘Go ahead Neil, race with him. I want to call home and tell them you’re coming to dinner” (Roth 20). She also does not give Neil the choice for coming over for dinner. She often does this to Neil, where she takes control and tells Neil what he has to do. Once they start to spend more time together, Neil goes to Brenda’s house one day and the Patimkins were dropping Ron off at the airport, Brenda tells Neil “You have to sit with Julie” (Roth 38). Neil agrees too because he often gives into Brenda, showing the lack of control of his own life. Neil is very confused about what he wants to do with his life. Being out of school for two years and only working at a library upsets Neil. “The library wasn’t going to be my life” (Roth 61). Although Neil likes books, he does not think the library is a career for him. Also, Brenda and her wealthy family makes him feel uncomfortable that he is only a librarian and not rich. Neil is very similar to Ben, because when their story starts they both do not have control over their own lives.Bens whole life when the film starts has been mapped out by his parents and all of his accomplishments, were just to impress his parents. When Ben returned home after graduating college, his parents had a party to celebrate his accomplishments. Although the party only consisted of his parent’s friends. Ben was sitting in his room, upset about his future, when his father came up to get him to come downstairs. “No- we’re just coming downstairs” (Willingham, Henry). Ben is under the control of his parents and not himself. This continues to be seen in the first act of the movie. On Bens twenty first birthday, he had another party, with his parent’s friends. His parents also had him dress up in a scuba suit and perform in front of Ben’s “friends”. “ Folks, this remarkable young man is going to perform for you some spectacular and amazing feats in water that is over six feet deep” (Willingham, Henry). Ben lacks so much control over his own life that his parents can make him dress up like a scuba diver and “perform” an act in their pool. Also Bens control of his life is limited with Mrs. Robinson as well. In the first hotel scene, Bens lack of control is shown:
Ben: Mrs. Robinson, I can not do this…
Mrs. Robinson… Benjamin, is this your first time? (Willingham, Henry).
Ben lacks control because Mrs. Robinson makes him feel scared and childish. Ben has a very difficult time of coming to age because he has no control over his own life. Neil like Ben needs to take control, and Neil does in the novella.
As the novella continues Neil starts to come of age and take control of his own life. Throughout the novella Neil does not ask much of Brenda but he has one request that he thinks is reasonable. He says to Brenda “I want you to buy a diaphragm” (Roth 79). The diaphragm is not just about the sexual intercourse; it is Neil trying to take control of his life. Neil has done so many things for Brenda throughout the novella and he is starting to take control of his life with his request. But when Brenda responds to him and says its silly he responds with “You know why its silly Brenda… because I asked you to do it” (Roth 80). Neil stuck up for himself and is coming of age, from the beginning of the novella. In the beginning he would have listened to Brenda and not protested her choice. Neil was so certain that he did not want to work in the library anymore, because he feels that it was not the ideal job to be with Brenda. She made Neil take the Jewish holiday off to come and visit her, which he reluctantly does. Once he and Brenda broke it off, he gained control of his life and he realized that he has a passion for the library. When he was about to go back to Newark he said “I was back in plenty of time for work” (Roth 136). That shows that Neil has grown to realize what is important in his life, and he fully comes to age when he says that. Neil has taken control over his life which has had him come of age and realize his true love of the library. Similar to Neil as the film progresses Ben takes control of his life and comes of age.
Once Ben starts to gain his own control over his life, he starts to come of age. Ben’s parents are upset with him just laying around after he graduated. His parents were fine with him taking some time off, but when he shows no interest in going to grad school his parents question him one day while he is in the pool. Ben responded with “Well – I would say that I’m just drifting. ‘“ (Willingham, Henry). He started to realize that he had to stop pleasing his parents and take control of his life. By telling them he is just drifting is him telling his parents that he wants to take control of his life and that they should back off. He then takes Elaine Robinson on a date and Mrs. Robinson tries to scare Ben away from Elaine by threatening to tell her everything. Ben decides he is tired of Mrs. Robinson controlling him and he starts to take control of his life. “ Elaine, I have to tell you something. “ (Willingham, Henry). He tells Elaine about his relationship with her mother. At that moment Ben started controlling his own life fully. When Ben wants to be with Elaine, he drives all around to find her and then has a confrontation, with Mrs. Robinson, the women who had the most control over Ben. He tells her that “You can’t stop me from seeing her, Mrs. Robinson. I’ll find her” (Willingham, Henry). Ben takes total control over his life and does not let anyone else control him or his decisions. Ben started the film as a graduate, who was controlled by his parents and Mrs. Robinson, and throughout the film he comes of age and takes control of his life.
Both Neil and Ben, in their respective stories were successful in coming of age and becoming men. They realized that they needed to take the control over their own lives to live a better life. There is a clear difference in the characters in the beginning of their stories to the end of their stories. Neil and Ben are different characters now that they control their own life are stronger now. They have both became strong and independent men who can control themselves. Often the lives of young adults are controlled by others such as spouses or parents. Many of those young adults are fine with being controlled, but it is very challenging to come of age while being controlled by a person other than thyself. Becoming a man is not simply turning a certain age, it is being able to control your own life just like Neil Klugman and Ben Braddock.