Literary Criticism and Significance
In a Social Science Journal article titled "Conceptual Conservatism: An Understated Variable in Human Affairs," conceptual conservatism is defined as "the cognitive tendency of human beings to cling to existing beliefs even after these beliefs have suffered decisive refutations." In Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," family and associates refuse to see beyond their own beliefs when it comes to perceiving Benjamin.
Even though Benjamin Button is an anomaly, born an old man, capable of mature thought and language, his family—specifically his father, wife, and son—treat him as if he were his chronological age. When he is newly born but with a long, white beard, and in need of a cane, the father insists on dressing him as a young boy and surrounding him with toys suitable for a baby.
At twenty, his wife assumes him to be fifty because he looks fifty years old. She expects him to age and when when he does not, instead of noticing the anomaly, she chides him on his stubborn attachment to rebel against the cultural norm as if he could control his own physical appearance. How he appears is of the utmost importance and she wants him to appear according to the sociocultural norm.
His son, even though he has grown up watching his father grow younger, expects his father to conform. Roscoe is embarrassed by what he sees as his father's unwillingness to fit in.
All three characters are attached to the sociocultural norm and therefore are rendered incapable of accepting Benjamin Button as he is.
We are expected to fit into sociocultural norms, Fitzgerald seems to be saying, and when we do not conform to sociocultural expectations, we are not recognized. Benjamin Button is never recognized. He is expected to behave as the norm expects him to behave, not as he is.
At the time the story was written, America was enjoying the Roaring Twenties, a time of economic optimism and greed that led to the Great...
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