What are some of the rhetorical effects used throughout Fitzgerald's "The Case of Benjamin Button?"

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One rhetorical device Fitzgerald employs early on in the narrative is a form of irony.  Fitzgerald plays off the basic idea that expectant parents are thrilled and excited to receive their child, almost doing so in the name of others' expectations.  In the case of Benjmain Button's arrival, there is an ironic rhetorical device employed to communicate Mr. Button's reception towards his son.  The exposition of the story is filled with this disappointment directed at what "others will say."  The hospital staff experiences it.  Mr. Button experiences it.  The irony is that all of this experience is within the moment when one should be the happiest:  "Mr. Button, sank down upon a chair near his son and concealed his face in his hands. 'My heavens!' he murmured, in an ecstasy of horror. 'What will people say? What must I do?"  The use of irony in "what will people say" reflects how "other- directed" Mr. Button is a rhetorical statement about how social interactions compel human beings to lose sight of that which is important at critical moments.  

Another rhetorical device that Fitzgerald uses is a satirical view towards how children are viewed.  When Mr. Button goes to search for clothes for Benjamin, his efforts are directed at doing what most parents do.  Mr. Button has a child who is noticeably older. Yet, he dresses him up as a big kid, and the result is a collision between what is and what should be:  The costume consisted of dotted socks, pink pants, and a belted blouse with a wide white collar.  Over the latter waved the long whitish beard, drooping almost to the waist.  The effect was not good."  The satire in the moment is matched by the satirical manner in which Fitzgerald establishes Mr. Button as a parent:  

"You've made a monkey of me!" retorted Mr. Button fiercely. "Never you mind how funny you look. Put them on--or I'll--or I'll spank you." He swallowed uneasily at the penultimate word, feeling nevertheless that it was the proper thing to say."

Fitzgerald wishes to illuminate a portrait of other- directed parents, individuals who should emphasize the proper values for a child of any age.  The premise of Benjamin Button being so old and his father being so ill- equipped to handle his proper responsibilities as a parents is evident through the use of rhetorical devices that enhance this dynamic.  The effect of these rhetorical devices is to ensure that the reader understands the difficulty in being an effective parent if one is so focused on the "other directed" quality of human consciousness.

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