The Curious Case of Benjamin Button Summary

Summary

In "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (1922) by F. Scott Fitzgerald, a child is born into nineteenth-century Baltimore an old man. His father, a proper gentleman of means, encounters first the disgruntled doctor, then the horrified nurses, and finally, his son, a small but wrinkled old man dangling his feet over the side of his crib. Mr. Button cannot accept that this old man is his son Benjamin. Rather than buy him the cane his son requests, Mr. Button cuts off his son's long, white beard and has a tailor outfit him in a suit with short pants suitable for a young boy.

The plot develops chronologically. People say the new addition to the family resembles the grandfather, who is initially upset by the sentiment. The grandfather soon recognizes a kindred spirit in his newly-born but aged grandson and together they enjoy sitting together, ruminating over the day's happenings.

Even though Benjamin sneaks his father's fine cigars and reads encyclopedias, Mr. Button stands firmly against the reality of his son's condition as if it were a position, something to be disagreed with. He enrolls him in kindergarten but Benjamin exacerbates the teacher by napping at the wrong times. Mr. Button is forced to take his son out of school. Benjamin tries to accommodate his father by playing with boys his age but he takes care to avoid the rougher sports in fear his bones will fracture and refuse to heal.

By the time Benjamin is twelve years old, he begins to notice that his white hair has gone dark gray and fewer wrinkles line his face. Overall his physical condition is improving. He is getting younger. His parents hardly notice. They have become used to him and his father continues to insist the situation is normal. When Benjamin, who still looks very much like an older man, insists on wearing long pants—a coming-of-age event reserved for fourteen-year-old boys—Mr. Button refuses, saying that Benjamin, at twelve, is not old enough. The two agree to compromise. If Benjamin continues to dye his gray hair black, play more often with boys his own age, not wear his eyeglasses, and leave his cane at home, his father will permit him to wear long pants.

Unlike the father, who cannot accept the reality of Benjamin's physical appearance, the outside world is presented as being capable of responding to nothing other than Benjamin's physical appearance. Even though Yale accepts Benjamin's application for college entrance, the university refuses to accept him in person because he looks old enough to be his own father. The college registrar tells him Harvard should have him, a humorous allusion...

(The entire section is 1062 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear