The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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How does Mr. Button’s son’s calm acceptance of his situation affect Mr. Button?

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Mr. Button (Benjamin's father) seems to grow increasingly mystified and exasperated by Benjamin's matter-of-fact attitude about his anomalous condition.

If we try to look at Fitzgerald's story as realistically as possible for the moment, Mr. Button's reactions, even if this phenomenon were possible and had actually occurred, are not realistic...

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Mr. Button (Benjamin's father) seems to grow increasingly mystified and exasperated by Benjamin's matter-of-fact attitude about his anomalous condition.

If we try to look at Fitzgerald's story as realistically as possible for the moment, Mr. Button's reactions, even if this phenomenon were possible and had actually occurred, are not realistic at all. It's true that at first, he is stunned into disbelief, shocked beyond words at the appearance of a seventy-year-old newborn. If such a thing had really occurred at a hospital, any father would realistically believe it had to be a hoax. But it doesn't take long for Mr. Button to "adapt" to the situation and deal with it in an angry, exasperated way, as if it were an infuriating yet somehow "normal" event. His behavior is a comical parody of the way a parent dealing with a conventionally bothersome situation would act. And Benjamin, the "elderly" son, apparently thinks the circumstances are funny, saying things to the effect that the fancy-dress suit bought for him makes him look like a monkey. His father's angry response is that Benjamin has made a monkey out of him.

Fitzgerald's story is obviously a parable not meant to be viewed with any expectation of "realism." But the underlying message is perhaps that life in reverse somehow makes more sense and would confer more benefits upon us than life in the correct direction does. Instead of starting out in our helpless infantile state, growing to maturity, and then deteriorating into old age, we could, if we were like Button, begin with full knowledge of ourselves and then physically improve by growing constantly younger. Even the final descent into infancy and nothingness at the conclusion of the story has something consoling in it in its reversal of the normal process of death. Benjamin, in his "calm acceptance" of his situation, appears already to know this subliminally. Perhaps, then, Mr. Button's angry reactions to that calm are an unconscious envy and a recognition of the irony in which this reversed life somehow is an improvement over real life with its own inherent absurdity.

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