For a man who was born 70 years old, Benjamin seems to be doing pretty well. The narrator tells us right off the bat that he is "by nature obliging" (1.3.7), and we see this in the way Benjamin responds to his father’s absurd demands that he shake a rattle periodically, dye his hair brown, go to Kindergarten, and so forth. In fact, part of the reason we root for Benjamin as a protagonist is that he’s so intent on making others – particularly his father – happy.
What makes Benjamin’s case all the more curious is the way people react to his reverse aging. They seem to think it’s his fault, and they insists that he change it, immediately. This is part of the humor of "Benjamin Button," but it’s also part of the story’s satire. Everyone resents Benjamin for being different, as though being different is necessarily wrong and necessarily a choice.
- "I should think you'd have enough pride to stop it," Hildegarde says of his reverse aging.
- "There’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don't suppose I can stop you, but I really don't think it's very considerate" (1.8.7-9).
- Benjamin’s son Roscoe does the same thing: "You'd better not go on with this business much longer," he says. "You better pull up short. You better—you better—[…] you better turn right around and start back the other way. This has gone too far to be a joke. It isn't funny any longer. You—you behave yourself!" (1.9.11).
Even more amazing is no one sees the fascinating, compelling components of what is essentially a medical miracle. From Doctor Keene to the nurses in the office to the well-to-do folks in Baltimore high society, what matters in "Benjamin Button" is maintaining reputation and social status. Benjamin is different, and so he poses a threat to their place in the social order. The satire of "Benjamin Button" is that this need for social self-preservation is so all-important it blinds everyone from seeing Benjamin’s case for what it is, and for seeing Benjamin for who he is.
Benjamin Button Timeline
- Benjamin is born in the hospital as a 70-year-old man. He asks his father for some real clothes.
- Benjamin dislikes the fancy suit he is given but complies with his father’s wishes.
- He plays with a rattle to satisfy Mr. Button, and as he grows, contrives to break things as a young boy should.
- Secretly, Benjamin reads the Encyclopedia for fun and even smokes his father’s cigars on one occasion.
- Benjamin and his grandfather take great pleasure in each other’s company and spend a lot of time together.
- His parents try to put him in kindergarten, but he finds it’s not appropriate for his age.
- On his twelfth birthday, Benjamin sees that he is actually getting younger. He asks his father for long trousers.
- Benjamin continues to get younger. When he is eighteen he passes the entrance examination for Yale and goes up to school to register for classes.
- Benjamin is dismissed by the registrar as being a fraud. He threatens that Yale will come to regret their decision.
- When Benjamin is twenty years old, he begins working for his father at the family hardware company. He and his father become good friends, as they’re now so close in age. They pass for brothers.
- Benjamin and his Dad go out to social dances together. One night, Benjamin meets Hildegarde and is struck by her beauty. He dances with her, and doesn’t tell her the truth about his age.
- Six months later, Benjamin and Hildegarde are engaged.
- The scandal of their marriage is muted by their growing family fortune.
- As Hildegarde gets older, Benjamin gets younger. He loses his attraction to her. They have a son, Roscoe.
- In 1898 Benjamin joins the army and fights in the Spanish American War. When he returns home, his family holds less appeal for him than ever.
- In 1910, Benjamin appears twenty. He enrolls at Harvard University and is a popular guy in his class. He destroys the Yale team at the football match.
- By the time he is a senior, however, he looks too young to be held up as a leader.
- Benjamin retreats into adolescent moodiness; his son resents him and wants nothing to do with him.
- Benjamin ends up playing with is grandson around the house as he gets to be a child. He eventually goes to kindergarten, but then just stays at home with his nurse, Nana. He gradually forgets everything he did as an adult, and gets smaller and smaller until he ceases to exist.