F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#1



As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anaesthetic air of a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a hospital. Whether this anachronism had any bearing upon the astonishing history I am about to set down will never be known.

I shall tell you what occurred, and let you judge for yourself.



F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 1920.



http://www.readbookonline.net/read/690/10628/



Open for discussion Sunday, 08 August, 2010.

Enjoy.


Please do not post until next week.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#2
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born somewhere in the US, sometime close to the end of the nineteenth-century. He needs no introduction here.

He wrote ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ in 1922 and the piece was published in Colliers in that year. It was then anthologised in the author’s own collection of short stories titled Tales from the Jazz Age. It is clearly the best known of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories (though one cannot confidently state that it is his best).

The tale, and it is indeed a very tall tale, is essentially a tragic one despite its comical moments and, indeed, the whole tale’s potential comedic value. The central inspiration for the tale came from Mark Twain statement to the effect that it was a pity that the best part of life came at the start and the worst at the end. It is strikingly similar to the popular saying that ‘youth is wasted on the young.’ Depending on how you wish to read the story, for Benjamin, that ain’t necessarily so. In many ways, there is little difference between the beginning and the end of life for some people. Dependence and expectation enshroud both experiences.

So, having read ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, there are numerous themes and questions that could (and should) arise here. Primarily, for my own part, I have to wonder whether or not Benjamin Button’s life really was lived backwards (or, more properly, in reverse). After all, his life was his life and, as such, his experience differed little from ours. The world in which he lived progressed, as did he, and the individual peculiarities of his situation mattered little to that progression. If his life went backwards, the world in which he lived did not.

It is, I fear, worthwhile touching on the matter of relationships. For one, his initial relationship with his father was not an easy one and took some degree of ‘growing into’. By the time Benjamin was able to pass for a man of similar age to his father, the pair had bonded – but it took a long time. In the case of Hildegard, the direction of relations went in the opposite direction. Love and attraction dominated initially, but given the vagaries of Benjamin’s conditions, they simply could not grow into one and other as would have been expected in a 'normal' relationship.

So, what else can we say about this most imaginative of short tall tales?



Thread open.
 

avon

Forum Staff
May 2008
14,253
#4
One of the main messages I received was that each person's journey is taken truly alone, although may be paired with another, and unique to each one of us.
So, Benjamin would be representative of each of us in that he travels his own unique path?
 
Mar 2010
6,609
#5
So, Benjamin would be representative of each of us in that he travels his own unique path?
Yes I beleive so....more here >>>>> that each one follows a unique path. Societies and cultures have guidelines that we as members strive to follow. It is the acceptable thing to do. However, sometimes circumstance push us into following our own path. There is a saying I use (too often, I am afraid) It goes like this: God grant me the Serenity to accept my own path in life...:)
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#6
I forgot it is Sunday while it is still Saturday for me.
Oh well...onward and up ward.
 

Pedro

Forum Staff
Mar 2008
17,151
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
#7
NOTES FROM A WEEK OF READING
Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald’s
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

MONDAY: [the old man]
So? it’s a story written by a man afraid of growing old and said writer did the decent thing and died young. The decent part comes about from being made a legend; happens to everyone that dies young. That’s only because they don’t hang around long enough to muck up their reputation. Scotties reputation was on the skids as it was. My mother says he cheated at canasta. Gore Vidal said Scott had talent but no education despite graduating from Princeton. I hear his other habits weren’t so good either. But I digress. About what I forget. Think I’ll go read that Ben Button short story that’s been hanging in the bathroom.

TUESDAY: [the not so old man]
“Button” is a story that was the product of Fitzgerald’s culture and his own ‘age consciousness’. Literary historians refer to that period, which Fitzgerald chronicled in numerous short stories and novels, as ‘the jazz age’ (a name he took credit for coining). It was a time of bath tube gin, rent parties, flappers and late night excesses and anything else that a weary post-war generation could dream up with no other purpose that to lose themselves. It was an age obsessed with being young and like the young they believe they were the first to do everything. Were they the first to think they were the first to think everything? No. Thinking was for old people. It was for this ‘lost generation’ to ‘do’, to ‘feel’. Damn it all to hell with thinking, for that could lead to ‘not feeling young’. This preoccupation with age was Fitzgerald’s obsession. And the obsession was focused on being young and its negative- not being old. The symbolism of age milestones can found, not only in Benjamin Button, but in his other writings. A crisis of age is often the dramatic turning point in his plots. In The Beautiful and Damned the young couple are so dreading the onset of middle age they lose themselves in descending decadence as if to spend the capital of youth before it gains interest. In the narrative Fitzgerald offers this thought, “It is in the twenties that the actual momentum of life begins to slacken, and it is a simple soul indeed to whom as many things are significant and meaningful at thirty as at ten years before. At thirty an organ-grinder is more or less a moth-eaten man who grinds an organ – and once he was an organ-grinder!” This from a man whose first literary success came at the tender daytime age of twenty-four.

In The Rich Boy the character fears that turning thirty will imbue him with “the fussy pessimism of a man of forty,” so to maintain his sense of vitality and possibility, he dedicates himself to acting twenty by immersing himself in a frivolous, pseudo-collegiate world of drinking parties and debutante balls.

from Tender is the Night…
Because she is not yet thirty, the character is excused from accounting for “the subsequent years when her insight will often be blurred by panic, by the fear of stopping or the fear of going on. But on the landings of nineteen or twenty-nine she is pretty sure that there are no bears in the hall” The female character in this recalls the one in the Beautiful and Damned who staves off her fear of growing old by acting like a teenager, until at twenty-nine she realizes she looks older than her age.)
It is a recurring theme in his works that however we might fancy ourselves young there is always the threat of the moment in which we are unmasked as old and decrepit.
It is a shame such a talent had his eye focused on a dark and formless future. I see this obsession as the essential failing of his talent, a failing that crippled. In reading his biography one discovers a man whose fear of growing old prevented even the dream of growing up. He must have felt (but not thought) his future was one of darkness, a dark fearful night, black as Henley’s pit from pole to pole. It is not merely unfortunate but tragic that he never lived long enough to learn, as all ‘soul masters’ do, how tender the ageing night can be.


WEDNESDAY: [the middle age man]
This story is about the glorification of youth, a theme that is very prevalent in Fitzgerald’s writing. A quick look through the popular magazines of his day one sees how adulthood is denigrated. In the years that Fitzgerald was growing up a new sense of the cult of youth was in the air, in was in full swing, it was the new centuries Zeitgeist. Not only was obtaining youthfulness a novelty but advertisers had learned how to use bad science to sell not only a product but also an idea. And the big idea was that youthfulness was a matter of psychology and not chronology. If you had the right attitude you could hide age by selecting from a large array of wrinkle creams, nostrums, vitamins, and bizarre surgical remedies. Another literary figure, William Butler Yeats, also got caught up in this craze for youth and underwent the Steinach operation. A procedure the required severing a man’s vas deferens so testosterone was not ejaculated in the sperm but remained in the blood stream to rejuvenate.
Everybody wanted to turn back the biological clock. If only one could synchronize youths energy and maturities wisdom—ah, then life would be perfect.
Youthfulness was no longer a supernatural fantasy but the boon of modern science; the result of a positive, vitalist outlook on life. There was even a French philosopher who gave us a name that was quickly adopted even if misunderstood and misapplied: elan vital.

Every magazine had an article or two or three on how to be young and/or recapture fleeting youth. Everyone wanted to be a Benjamin Button even if they never head of him. Or baring a true miracle at least master the deceptive appearance.

With the pursuit of youth comes the anxiety of “When do I become out of date?”
We could make a case that this began back in the 1880s, when a scientist, George Beard, formulated laws on “the relation of age to work.” He noted that most statesmen, military leaders and artists peaked before forty. He put this idea forth in his mid-thirties. He proved his thesis by dying at forty-four. A brief 25 years later, age sensitivity was so firmly rooted that the famed William Osler shocked and enraged the public by satirically endorsing euthanasia for sexagenarians. The tabloids had a field day with that tid-bit. They claimed that over two dozen elderly persons had committed suicide. A shaken Osler had to explain in the pages of the New York Times that he was merely advocating compulsory retirement for aged workers incapable of competing with younger workers. “Out of date” indeed!
Trade journals and business magazines of the first half of the twentieth century had at one time or another published articles about the older worker not being able to compete. To gloss on Emerson, ‘The times like all times were tough, but the young were the toughest.”

This obsession with ‘youthfulness’ was deemed to be unhealthy by many later critics. In the early fifties when renewed interest in Fitzgerald was being ballyhooed the distinguished critic VanWyck Brooks issued a caution . He feared that the cult of youth that Fitzgerald celebrates might ‘fill [readers] with a fear of growing old that… precludes at the outset any regard for the uses of growing up.” Other critics pointed to Fitzgerald’s ‘arrested development’ and tried to minimize his importance by labeling him as the advance guard of beatniks and juvenile delinquents.

Should we upbraid Fitzgerald for his failing to mature? No. Rather we should realize how deeply we share this fault, for we also struggle to mature in a culture that demonizes growing old.

THURSDAY: [the twenty year old]
Wow!! What a story. We had to read this for English lit 101. My professor sure knows his stuff. He said a lot of neat stuff. Wish I could remember it. I think I might like to read more of this Fitzgerald’s stuff. You just know that he got to be the best writer ever. Maybe I write a paper on this interesting guy if it don’t need be too long. Right now I gotta go an’ log on to Historum. Saw a post that is just begging for a slam!. Catch you later dude.

FRIDAY: [the sixteen year old]
Cool story about a man who… like… goes backward. It reminds me of the rock group Devo. Yeah…like they be about the same thing. Like Devo say… we be devolving. They b a pretty ancient group but ya gotta love their electro-pop riffs (They was big back in Grandpa’s day). BWTF man… it is the coolest si-fi story I have ever read. If it was a CD I’d rip it. That’s the best I can say about a band that sounds like it be 'falling apart.' Yeah! Devo said that. I think it was Wiki that said the band believed in "De-evolution", a theory that mankind, rather than progressing, was actually going backwards. How kewl is Wiki for that?


SATURDAY: [the six year old]
A man is born old. That is silly. It B stupid story to. The End. Can I have a ice cream now?

SUNDAY: Burp! (aaaaw! Ain’t he cute as a button?)



Recommended background music: Strauss’s Also spake Zarathustra.
 
Last edited:

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
#8
It's a touching story and I hadn't read it before. This is, however, one of the rare occasions where I find myself preferring the movie version because I think the latter treated the topic more delicately, though it saw quite a few changes to the story. They spread it over a bigger canvas and added plenty of layers to it making it an extremely rich narrative in contrast to which the story looks rather rushed and unidimensional. But this is only because I saw the movie first, and which I very much liked, and I cannot read the story without constantly thinking about the movie and comparing the two. Maybe I would have had a different take on the story if I never had seen the movie.

Regardless, the concept itself is very fascinating and I wonder where he got it from. I have also frequently thought would it not be more interesting to acutally be born older and get younger with each passing day? Because that way one would have so much to look forward to every day and your body would keep getting better, your skin, your hair, and it would be a delightful thing to experience. Contrast that with the present arrangement where one peaks usually at 25 and it's all downhill from thereon. No pleasant surprises as it is guaranteed things are going to keep getting worse and worse and one day you will drop dead, all gnarled and meshed up.
 

Rosi

Historum Emeritas
Jul 2008
6,242
#9
One of the main messages I received was that each person's journey is taken truly alone, although may be paired with another, and unique to each one of us.
I concur, and may I add that true acceptance of who you are is a difficult feat for many to achieve regardless of however much they love you. If you don't fit in some mould or the other people just don't know what to make of you and that manifests as subtle or overt hostility.

What he went through as a child, being old and gnarled, and later on in his twilight years, was indeed tragic. Unconditional love is an extremely rare thing and yet that is what we need the most.
 
Apr 2010
1,247
Manila
#10
I concur, and may I add that true acceptance of who you are is a difficult feat for many to achieve regardless of however much they love you. If you don't fit in some mould or the other people just don't know what to make of you and that manifests as subtle or overt hostility.

What he went through as a child, being old and gnarled, and later on in his twilight years, was indeed tragic. Unconditional love is an extremely rare thing and yet that is what we need the most.
Yes, I entirely agree. The society has its own standard of norms that makes the sameness in our society, and all those that are not included in that norm are being discriminated and hated. The society shaped our moral conditions, our prejudices, our flavor and our own knowledge.

I've now just remembered the old Beatles song, All you need is love.
 

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