I’ve always found extremely uncomfortable when a science fiction story is treated as a realistic one that could happen in everyday life. Most of the characters try to deny what is obviously happening in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald and blame poor Benjamin for refusing to look his own age, as if he could change the nature of his body.
If one idea is present in the short story is the tenet that being different is not well seen by society. Conventions are so strong that Benjamin’s father, instead of lying about their ties of kinship, he prefers to treat him as a baby: ‘Benjamin was a baby and a baby should remain’ as he puts it. He even gives ‘the child’ a rattle for him to play when what Benjamin really wants to do is smoke cigars. Fitzgerald uses the situation to introduce some comical comments like Mr. Button warning his son that smoking would ‘stunt his growth’.
From the feminist perspective, this short story has a lot to discuss about. Page after page I encountered the same question in my mind: ‘why don’t we hear what the mother has to say?’. In a realistic story she would have died giving birth to such a newborn grandpa but we know she is alive because she is mentioned once to point out she agreed with her husband. The only women that has somehow a voice is Benjamin’s wife, beautiful and desirable when she is 20 but useless, according to Benjamin, when she turns 50.
After reading the tale, I’ve come to realize what the movie does with the female characters and I love it. In the book at the break of civil war, Benjamin’s father is so upset that he wishes for a dark instant ‘that his son was black’. The film version silences Mr. Roger Button and gives voice to a black woman in charge of an old people’s home who would take care of Benjamin her whole life and, moreover, provides a positive connotation for the protagonist’s redhead friend and lover.
This fable of ageing even though is dark and male biased is incredibly imaginative and is constantly questioning whether being different is as bad as society judges it to be.