Monday, January 27, 2014

Short Story Club: January 2014 Story Notes

Chari and I decided for that this month at least, Chari would introduce the short story, and I would comment on it.     In future months we hope to discuss the stories together.  

This is for the January edition of our:

If you read the story either recently or in the past, and want to comment, please do so! 

Benjamin Button is a short story in Tales of the Jazz Age.
I got the book  for free on Kindle.
You can also read it online on the link in the first sentence.

 I didn't know anything about the story at all before I started reading it.   That was fun.

I  decided to basically tweet my way through it making notes as I read.   So no profound analysis here, just what I was thinking as I was reading.  

This probably contains spoilers so you may not want to look until you read the story. 


 "..It was the proper thing to be born at home"  Interesting -- when did it change?*  Maybe when doctors stopped making house calls?  

"charming old custom of having babies"  -- sounds like Chesterton.  I wonder who came first, FSF or GKC?**

"the day consecrated to the enormous event".  Just that. 

Doctor:   What's up with the outrage?  Scary!  Wonder if Mr Button's  son is a beetle or something?  He seems personally insulted. 

Mr. Button:  I don't blame you for trembling.  Something is obviously wrong and the doctor seems to know it's your fault.

Desk Girl: "utter terror"?  Yikes, I am trembling with the father.
Why do people get so hostile in this story when they don't understand something? 

It's written like a comedy but scary too!  I feel sorry for Button!

In the "crying room".  Now we see what's wrong with Button's baby.
Poor old guy! The son, not the dad!  

Button is mad now, too.  The hospital blames him and he blames the hospital!    But what about the baby?  Why is this all about them?

The baby asks if Button is its father.   The baby sounds mad, too.   Button is angry at the baby!
All this anger!  

Button has to take the elderly grown baby home.  Everyone seems to agree about that.   He doesn't really want to, but there is nothing else to be done. 

"And a cane, father.  I have to have a cane."  Funny!


Scene at the clothing store.  Mr Button can't seem to decide on  the appropriate garb for his son.   Finally decides on huge baby costume.   Apparently wants to pass his own humiliation onto the next generation.  

Poor elderly baby.   He has to trust this resentful, humiliated father to take care of him.

This seems like we are getting close to real life and mismatched parental expectations.   Possibly? 


Benjamin Button (who almost got called Methusaleh) obediently plays with rattles and tops and toy duckies even though he would rather smoke a pipe with his grandpa and read in the study.   Good son!  He is underappreciated. 

Being a father is hard!  You have to make sure the boy gets playdates and toys which won't flake off their paint in the child's mouth,  and the right food -- warm milk and oatmeal!

Being a son is hard!  You have to move your creaky joints in childish play with your agemates, and line up lead soldiers, and deliberately break windows and vases so your father will think you are doing typical boyish escapades!

"it was all part of Roger Button's silent agreement with himself to believe in his son's normality"
yes,  I think it's not just the Button family here.  


Mr Button wants his son to go to Yale like he did.  But the undergrads laugh at the "infant prodigy" who looks 50.  No go.

"Hahaha" laugh the Yale undergrads.  Yale will be sorry someday!


It's nice that now Mr Button and Benjamin look like brothers.  They are getting along much better.  Benjamin joins the family business and does well.  Good times!

Oh Dad, your 20 year old son is in love with a young lady who likes older men of 50, and you are talking about lugs when he is talking about love!   Humph, the older generation! 

"Benjamin regarded him with dazed eyes just as the eastern sky was suddenly cracked with light, and an oriole yawned piercingly in the quickening trees..."

Nice line,  F Scott -- I like that one.    Ironic comedy turns slightly poignant ....


Hildegarde chooses to marry Benjamin because she appreciates mellowness and the seasoning of age. Her father, the general,  hates this May/December alliance.  Hmm, I don't have many hopes for this marriage.


The hardware business prospers and so does Benjamin.

Benjamin is 35 and looks 35!   Even more good times.    This is your golden age -- but you know where it is going! 

"And if old Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what amounted to adulation."

Cat's in the Cradle time here.  But better late than never.

Benjamin is bored with the middle aged Hildegarde.  He wants to be part of the Jazz Age.


Benjamin's wife could now be his mother.   He feels embarrassed to go out with her.  Does this sound familiar?  You should know better, Benjamin.

Benjamin goes to war and comes back a conquering hero.
He takes up golf...
His son looks like his brother and is a Harvard grad (you missed out, Yale).

Benjamin can now hand over the family business to the next generation.
And at the same time, he looks about 25.   Great!  

Odd how no one really seems to realize a pattern here!


Benjamin enters Harvard and in his underclassmen years totally owns Yale in football.    Who is saying "Hahaha" now?  In your face, Yalies!

But the glory will not last.   Now he looks like a spindly freshman, when he is a senior in college.   He is dropped from the football team,  and his 30 year old son tells his own father to call him Uncle. 

More intergenerational tension about mismatched expectations.   Will the Buttons never learn? 


No one believes Benjamin is a general, even if he insists it with his adolescent cracking voice -- they think he stole his Dad's papers.   He can't go to war again. 

His son brings him home, angry and embarrassed.  Both. 


Poor Benjamin, destined to be despised and misunderstood in the most vulnerable years of his life, both sides.

But soon that is no longer a matter of concern -- his world is warm milk and his crib, and patterns of light and darkness. 

"When the sun went his eyes were sleepy--there were no dreams, no dreams to haunt him."

I feel sorry for Benjamin.   Even though he was a Button just like his father and son.  

Notes and further research (after I read the story):

GKC and FSF were basically contemporaries, but GKC came first, born 22 years earlier, in 1874.    They died only 4 years apart though, in 1936 and 1940 respectively.   Wow, FSF died young.   Only 44.   They say it was a combination of tuberculosis and alcoholism.

** Timeline:  After 1900 the possibility of twilight-sleep childbirth lured women to hospital births (would have been a good thing for Mrs Button, poor woman!).   By 1920,  30 - 50% of women gave birth in hospitals.   By 1950 it was 88% and by the 1960's it was 97%.   Curious that Fitzgerald knew something about this when he wasn't born until almost the turn of the century. 

Fitzgerald wrote Tales of the Jazz Age in 1922.     So he was only about the age of my oldest son at the time. 

The movie looks quite different from the story.
I don't think I could go through the comic- tragedy of life played backwards twice.
But I hear it's a pretty good movie. 
 Echoes of Metamorphosis?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button belongs to that category of short story - Kafka's The Metamorphosis is the most celebrated example - in which an absurd conceit is established at the outset, and is then played out in a realist vein. Here the conceit is that a man is born with the body and mind of a 70-year-old, and proceeds to live his life in reverse. The joke is that no one else seems to notice; or at any rate, they regard Benjamin Button's inverted progress not as a flagrant violation of the laws of science, but as an embarrassing social problem.
Yes, that struck me too.  

Echos of Flowers for Algernon?   Maybe.  That story made me sad, too.   But don't we all go through this in a way?   I guess so:  
Both stories use a fantastic or science fictional premise to explore the structure of all long lives, in which we are cognizant of being on a long, slow decline back into the oblivion from which we came.
 Inspired by a Mark Twain epigram?  Interesting!
"It is a pity that the best part of life comes at the beginning, and the worst part at the end."-- Mark Twain
 In Benjamin's case, he got the best part at the end, perhaps?  Nana took care of him, and he got to say "fight fight" and use a cane as a sword instead of as prop for his doddering steps, and jump on the bed,

"which was fun, because if you sat down exactly right it would bounce you up on your feet again, and if you said "Ah" for a long time while you jumped you got a very pleasing broken vocal effect."
(A little bit of Chesterton there too)

And then your last memories of comfortable darkness, warmth and nourishment.  

Maybe the story isn't so sad after all.


  1. I loved reading your tweets through Benjamin Button Willa! I was giggling throughout! I have to admit that I wasn't too interested in reading the story. I think that your tweets made it more appealing though. Thanks for making me smile.

  2. I love your tweets through the story also. What really struck me is that the women in the story are almost an after thought. The mother is no where really to be found (did she have any opinion on this strange birth?). Hildegarde is a means to an end as well. The men - Benjamin, his father, and his son, seem to live a life blind to reality. They, especially his father and his son, live in this little bubble of what they think/want life to be like and are unable to see anything else. And his father and son both seem to believe this is all Benjamin's doing (Hildegarde too). I do feel Benjamin did his best at each phase of his of his life for the most part. He did really seem to epitomize the stereotypical "age" of each phase. I feel badly for him; he really just needed someone, anyone, to love him for who he was and not who they thought he should be. It wasn't until Nanny and the nursery that he could just be. He was finally loved for who he was.

    1. I noticed that about the women, too --the mother is hardly even mentioned!
      That is a very good point about the end of his life being warm and accepting in a way the beginning was not. Thank you for your thoughts on the story; it is more fun to read things like this with others!


We love hearing from our readers. Please share your thoughts or just say hello!