Even though I'm closer to Mrs Robinson's age, I still identify very strongly with Benjamin. That feeling of being adrift in a world full of people who seem so sure of themselves, while you yourself remain so uncertain. What should I do with my life? What is the one thing that I love to do above all others? These are questions I still regularly ask myself. But many readers, especially young ones, aren't particularly interested in waiting around while a character goes through the process of questioning their motivation. They want characters with clearly focused goals that will drive an exciting plot. Robert McKee's Story is very specific on the use of character motivation to resolve a scene – a protagonist wants something and goes into the scene trying to get it from someone else. Almost every time, they will fail and actually end up further from their goal than they were when they started. Thus, there is rising tension as the goal becomes ever more important while the protagonist faces an ever larger struggle to reach it, prompting them to take ever bigger risks.
It's fair to say that there are some of these mechanics at play in the last third of The Graduate as Benjamin becomes infatuated and chases the object of his desires. But this would be far less affecting if it hadn't been preceded by Benjamin's inability to find his path. The famous final scene on the bus is almost a reset point, sweeping away the excitement of that final act and indicating that perhaps none of the characters really knew what they wanted after all.
Despite my enthusiasm for passive characters and the mirror they hold up to society, I have to be honest and admit that this is a subject better suited to adult literary fiction, where plot takes a backseat to social commentary and writing technique. When we choose to write for children, we don't just sacrifice vocabulary, we also have to accept the wider restrictions of the form. To truly connect with a young audience means presenting and structuring a story in a way that will resonate with them, from a killer first line through rising tension to a meaningful resolution. Active, motivated characters are a key component in that journey.