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Meaning Of “Mrs. Robinson” By Simon & Garfunkel

Simon & Garfunkel’s Mrs. Robinson has gained a bit of an infamous reputation over the years as an anthem of extramarital affairs. But it was more than just that, it’s an empowering song for older women as well. Thanks in large part to its role in the film The Graduate, it became a hit single in the US and beyond.

Unfortunately for many, the real meaning of the track has been lost to most of the people who listened to it. In this article, we’ll dive into the real meaning of Mrs. Robinson, both from the perspective of The Graduate and from looking at it as a standalone song. 

Background for Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson”

Mrs. Robinson was originally a track titled Mrs. Roosevelt. The entire song originated with the line “Here’s to you, Mrs. Roosevelt,” and the lyrics very much seem to be drawing inspiration from her life. Eleanor Roosevelt was likely a big inspiration for the duo as she was a female and Black rights activist.

Simon & Garfunkel - Mrs. Robinson (Audio)

For the most part, it appeared from the outside that she was running the country as much as Franklin D. Roosevelt or FDR was during his presidency. When the song was put up for the movie, the name was quickly changed to match the character rather than the first lady.

Mrs. Robinson was a featured track on Simon & Garfunkel’s 1968 album Bookends, but it wasn’t initially written for the album. The first appearance of the song and the reason for its production was for the 1967 film The Graduate.

Rob Bogaerts / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The duo’s album is one of the only places to hear the full version, as the film soundtrack included two shortened versions used in the actual movie instead. Alternatively, you can find Mrs. Robinson as the title track of their 1968 EP. 

The director of The Graduate became a massive fan of Simon & Garfunkel during the mid-60s, right as the duo was rising in popularity. Two weeks into his music binge, he approached the record label for permission to license the pair’s music. After rejecting two tracks, he settled on this one. 

Mrs. Robinson was a huge success for Simon & Garfunkel. In addition to finding fame in The Graduate, it became only their second song to reach the top spot of the US charts. It finished at number one on the Hot 100 and would peak within the Top 10 in the UK, Ireland, and Spain.

After its tremendous run of chart success, the track became the first rock single to win the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. Cover versions would pop up every now and again, but the Frank Sinatra and The Lemonheads’ versions are the best-known ones to date.

The Real Meaning of “Mrs. Robinson”

Diving into the meaning of the track can be complicated, as it has implications in both The Graduate and as a standalone song. The lyrics of Mrs. Robinson come off incredibly sarcastic from the very beginning of the track. 

And here’s to you, Mrs. Robinson
Jesus loves you more than you will know
Wo, wo, wo
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray

In the movie, a recent college graduate sleeps with one of his parent’s friends but goes on to date that woman’s daughter. The “Here’s to you” part of the song is a bit of a mocking salute to Mrs. Robinson while the following lines seem to remind her that she needs forgiveness for her sins.

As the track progresses, it seems like it could be about someone seeking psychiatric help or going off to school. 

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files
We’d like to help you learn to help yourself
Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home

Since it was originally written about Eleanor Roosevelt, it’s likely that these lines are placed to mimic her speaking to a psychiatrist so they can gather information to begin her treatments. She’s told to make herself at home and assured that the people there want to help her. 

But they also carry a feeling of being watched. It was a common thing for people in the spotlight to feel the heat from organizations like the CIA during the 60s, so it makes sense to have it in this song. However, when put into the context of the affairs going on in both the movie and the ones hinted at in the lyrics, it’s discussing the paranoia of being caught doing something that you shouldn’t be. 

Mrs. Robinson has to keep her image clean because of her husband. As a successful businessman, it would ruin him if everyone found out that she had an affair behind his back. So, she has to keep everything a secret for her own sake and to avoid spoiling how her family is looked at. 

Hide it in a hiding place where no one ever goes
Put it in your pantry with your cupcakes

The first of those lines refers to her keeping the affair a secret. Any and all evidence has to be hidden in a place where nobody is going to find it. The second line gives us a clue as to where she will wind up keeping it all. While in the film, the pantry seems to be a place where she’s the only one to go to, the track as a standalone more likely refers to support group meetings. 

As we said, the song was originally written to be about Eleanor Roosevelt. Her husband, FDR, had several affairs. Princess Martha of Sweden, his secretary, his wife’s social worker… the list goes on. From the perspective of the original inspiration in Eleanor Roosevelt, hiding those things makes a lot of sense. 

It’s a little secret, just the Robinsons’ affair
Most of all, you’ve got to hide it from the kids

Like the Roosevelts, the affairs completely ruined the marriage. However, the couple agreed to keep up appearances because of the way it would ruin their societal image and potentially scar their children. One of the biggest reasons Mrs. Robinson’s actions have to be kept secret was to give her room to teach her children proper morals; something she would struggle with if they knew what she had done. 

An affair would have been political suicide for the Roosevelts. While FDR was the known cheater, it’s likely Eleanor Roosevelt had short flings as well towards the end of their relationship. If that information about either of them had gotten out during his terms in office, it would have left them hard-pressed to achieve anything politically. In addition to that, the president and first lady are meant to be role models, so that behavior would have never gone over well. 

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it, you lose

The third verse of the song is the one that feels the most out of place, both in the context of The Graduate and in the track. Mrs. Robinson is more of a socialite who has the affair because she’s bored being stuck at home all the time. 

The most likely explanation for this verse is the political one. Watching any candidates debating and trying to win votes to get into office is an exercise in choosing the lesser of two evils. Participating, even just by watching on TV makes you part of the flawed political process in this country.

The point of the verse is to say that no matter whether you’re laughing at the candidate or angry with one, whichever way you vote, you’ll be the one losing if neither person debating is fit for office.  

I guess the best way to sum up Mrs. Robinson is that while Simon & Garfunkel spend the track maligning the political process and potential politicians, most people didn’t take it that way. They’re looking for a hero to lead them, not someone who can’t even maintain a marriage. 

It’s even odd that the character in the song isn’t very much like the Mrs. Robinson of The Graduate. The film character is seductive while the one in the track sounds boring in a way. It’s likely that the popularity of the movie is the reason why the song became so successful. Unfortunately, most people missed the point of the track, instead twisting the meanings of it to turn it into an anthem of cheaters.

And finally, a little cleanup of some of the other lyrics that don’t tell the overall story. 

Coo, coo, ca-choo

This line is likely just a reference to The Beatles’ song I Am A Walrus. That track is entirely nonsensical—on purpose—but Simon & Garfunkel were big fans of the band as a whole. Its inclusion here is mainly based on how fun it sounds and the syllable cadence they were going for in the song. 

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you

Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away

Paul Simon was a massive fan of the New York Yankees and Mickey Mantle. Instead of Mantle, he included Joe DiMaggio in the track, and it would become one of the best-known lines he ever wrote. When asked why he picked DiMaggio, he said it was all because of the syllable count needing to match the beat of the song. 

Both Mantle and DiMaggio are looked up to as heroes, but neither would be a particularly good option for a political office. It’s likely that their inclusion was meant as a jab at actual politicians, as wanting a leader like either of those two baseball legends over them was meant to show just how unfit the actual politicians were for their roles in government. However, DiMaggio also served as a metaphor for the lack of good options for a political office. 

God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson
Heaven holds a place for those who pray

And just a final note on these lines. Self-help groups were popular during the 60s, just hitting their stride. Faith-based groups were mainly preaching about finding strength and repentance with God.

However, this line also has an alternative, dirtier meaning that can be included in the context of this track. Prayers are often said while kneeling, a common position for oral sex. In the context of the affairs, heaven would be the sensations felt while Mrs. Robinson is down there ‘praying.’ 

Later Scandal and Uses

Funnily enough, in 2010, news broke that Iris Robinson was having an affair with someone her children’s age—the other party was an adult. It just so happened that Mrs. Robinson was the wife of Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, which put the spotlight directly on the fact that she was sleeping with someone 40 years younger than she was at the time.

Thanks to her unfortunate last name and the reputation of this song, Mrs. Robinson was played so much that it would reenter the Irish charts in 2010 and rise to the number-one spot.

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