The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Start Free Trial

Themes

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 597

Benjamin Button sits in the hospital nursery in a crib, newly born an old man. He exists as an anomaly yet that fact receives little attention. Only Benjamin seems curious about his curious case. Everyone who knows his history expects him to act and be his chronological age. Everyone who does not know his history expects him to act and be his physical age. No one in the story wrestles with the bizarre or unbelievable nature of his predicament. After some research, Benjamin concludes he is alone in his abnormal condition. The lack of attention directed toward Benjamin's abnormality highlights the social expectations the characters have that prevent each one from knowing Benjamin. Throughout the story, the characters deny the real Benjamin Button in favor of their societal expectations of Benjamin Button.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Facts carry weight. Those who know Benjamin’s chronological age cannot seem to see beyond that fact. Benjamin’s family cannot accept his youthing. Again and again, his father, his wife, and his son express their dissatisfaction with his continual youthing and then insist that he stop. Because they know how old Benjamin is, they continue to insist that he behave as the sociocultural expectation would have that age group behave. In kindergarten, he is judged by his ability to conform to his chronological age. Even though he reveals advanced skills, because he does not behave as kindergartners do, he is taken out of school.

Just as those who know his history cannot accept that he does not look or act his chronological age, the world cannot accept that his age does not match up with his physical appearance of age. Plato reminds us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and idioms encourage us not to judge a book by its cover, but this short story reveals another human tendency: we are easily swayed by how people look. Our inability to see beyond appearances limits our ability to know one another. We all know that individuals who do not conform to basic societal expectations are ignored or even ostracized. Fitzgerald does not allow the world to ignore or ostracize Benjamin, though. He forces our attention on how the world projects its sociocultural expectations onto the character Benjamin.

Homework Help

Latest answer posted July 20, 2021, 2:50 pm (UTC)

1 educator answer

Yale will not admit Benjamin because he looks like an old man; Harvard admits him because he looks like a young man. His social circle feels sorry for him because he is married to an older woman. His grandfather and father enjoy him only when he appears to be their own ages, respectively. Appearances rule the treatment Benjamin receives and the feelings others have for him.

Benjamin, it seems, is no exception. He falls in love upon first sight of Hildegarde, whom he sees as more beautiful than "sin." Hildegarde's physical beauty seduces Benjamin, and Benjamin's sin is the same as everyone else's in the story—that of mistaken identity. Benjamin thinks Hildegarde beautiful so he loves her. When her beauty fades, his love for her fades. Fitzgerald seems to be saying that unless we love someone for more than appearances, love will fade.

No one in the story ever sees Benjamin as he is. Benjamin lives and dies without love. His grandfather and his father experience times of camaraderie with Benjamin, but both instances occur when Benjamin happens to appear to be like them.

The story also seems to be saying that these societal expectations perhaps prevail more frequently among the rich. From the beginning to the end, the characters concerned themselves with how they looked precisely because they were members of high society.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Previous

Summary

Next

Characters