“The Grapes of Wrath” and “The Graduate” both had main characters struggling with identity issues. Tom Joad had to acclimate to society after leaving prison, which was especially hard because he traveled with his family in search of work. In his travels, he encountered thousands of homeless, migrant workers in search of over advertised jobs that ensure surplus labor with minimal costs. There were many instances where Tom and his family were exploited, yet when they worked at the Wheatpatch Camp it represented their utopia. All members would live in peace, where they pooled their resources to focus on the good of the community rather than their individual needs. This was an impactful experience for Tom Joad. In the alternate ending that better represented the novel, Tom Joad gave a captivating monologue describing what he learned throughout their travels and their time at the Wheatpatch Camp. He decides to risk his life for societal injustices instead of caring only for issues with his family.
In “The Graduate”, Benjamin Braddock is overwhelmed with the plethora of opportunities after graduating college. His problems stem from his lack of direction and the overwhelming expectation from others to have a clear plan as a recent college graduate. The most telling shot is showing Benjamin standing underneath the pool in full scuba gear. The only sounds are Benjamin’s deep breaths in the scuba equipment. He is surrounding by his happy family and their cheers, although in his perspective he is completely isolated at the bottom of the pool. The metaphor of the water may be him drowning in a sense, totally overwhelmed in the world. It seems that while others have plans and expectations for Benjamin, his primary concern is not losing touch with himself, as he is flooded with information.
In either scenario, the distance between their envisioned lives and their reality is growing. This reminded me of an NPR article titled, “A Quarter-Life Crisis: When You Let Go Of ‘I Will,’ What’s Next?” The article is explaining how many young adults get caught in the “I will” phrase and as they enter their mid twenties. This article was relevant to these movies because the filmmakers gave two different responses to the article’s question, ‘What next?’ In Tom Joad’s case, he chooses to confront his problems directly by seeking societal justice for himself and the community around him. Benjamin Braddock in comparison chooses to deal with it indirectly. He thinks that chasing after another women with similar thoughts will solve his problem, however it doesn’t seem like he ever dealt with his internal issues. In the final scene of the movie, he is sitting on a bus with the runaway bride. After their adrenaline settles, they are now both sitting just as confused and unsure about their future as before. I appreciate how the films demonstrate the pros and cons for dealing with large internal struggles, in my opinion Tom Joad’s approach seems more constructive.