What Is the Story problem?

In The Graduate1 Ben Braddock comes from an affluent middle-class family. He has just graduated and has a promising life ahead of him, in ‘plastics’ even, if he wants it. He’s doted on by his parents, driving around in a flashy European sports car. He doesn’t really have any problems. So, what’s the real story problem?

Ben Braddock’s problem isn’t that he’s single, lazy or lacks direction. It’s not that he has an affair with jaded married woman (who is also a family friend). Through her he learns about himself and the world. The problem isn’t that his girlfriend decides to marry someone else (a man who is more socially acceptable to her parents). His real problem, which is the problem posed by the story, is that he doesn’t have the guts to live his own life.

To solve the problem he has to change. He must take command of his life and throw himself open to risk — ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. The penalty of failure is living a life of dissatisfied mediocrity, the conventional life espoused by his parents. His parents generation represent the suffocating values of the 1950s. Ben Braddock is a modern 1960s man.

Ben Braddock’s real problem doesn’t exist in the outside world. He’s facing an internal challenge. The real problem posed by the story can only be solved within himself. This is the nature of real story problems. The protagonist acquires wisdom through experience and they act on that experience to change their life.

1 Here’s another of my posts, which takes a look at The Graduate‘The Graduate’: who is the monster?