The ending of Mike Nichols’s film The Graduate is one of the most haunting and hotly debated sequences in movie history. Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine (Katharine Ross) have defied the suffocating expectations of their parents and 1960s conventions by leaving Elaine’s husband at the altar and running off together. Pumped up with adrenaline and gleeful rebelliousness, they tumble into a bus to start a liberated life together. As the bus pulls away from the church, however, the expressions on their faces start to shift as the reality of their situation and the prospect of their future slowly settle over them.
The ending of Charles Webb’s 1963 novel is just as ambiguous. As the bus pulls away, Elaine takes Benjamin’s hand. The book concludes with this exchange:
The bus began to move.
Given this cliffhanger and the success of Nichols’s film, you’d expect Webb’s sequel to have arrived on bookstore shelves within a few years at most. Instead, it took more than four decades. Finished in 2005 and published two years later, Home School takes place in the 1970s, 10 years after Benjamin and Elaine hopped on the bus. They now live on the East Coast with their two sons, a continent’s width away from Elaine’s mother, Mrs. Robinson. When they decide to withdraw their kids from the local school and homeschool them instead, they are faced with backlash and threats, most notably from the school’s principal. Their saving grace is Mrs. Robinson, whose seductive charms have not diminished in the decade since her affair with Benjamin.
Despite the return of The Graduate’s three central characters, Home School is as much a product of ‘70s culture as the first book was of ’60s culture. While Benjamin and Elaine are still struggling against the expectation of creating a suburban nuclear family, they are also unsettled by its opposite. During Mrs. Robinson’s visit, a hippie couple and their two children come to stay. They are equally opposed to conventional schooling, but also allow their children to continue breastfeeding into adolescence and eschew every other parental norm. For fans who spent decades speculating about what happened after Elaine and Benjamin got on the bus, Home School probably isn’t what they expected.