Writers and philosophers have always been interested in the way people’s inner self transforms during a lifetime. In order to explore this phenomenon, Francis Scott Fitzgerald chooses an unusual perspective which allows the reader to have a fresh glimpse of habitual things. By creating a character who is getting younger every day instead of aging, the author explores the stages that each person goes through and how they correlate with social expectations. The idea that is exposed as a result is that while age is just a convention and stereotype on the one hand, it is still quite meaningful in terms of unique experiences, mindset and other features that a person has at each stage of his/her life.
The story is based on a fantasy plot, which at the same time can be treated as an allegory. The main character, Benjamin Button, is born to be a seventy-year-old man, which includes all aspects of this age starting with appearance and ending with thinking and interests. Benjamin’s parents try to ignore the situation by trying to force the man into a conventional child’s behavior. When Benjamin is fifty, he gets married to Hildegarde Moncrief, a young girl. They have a son named Roscoe, who eventually appears to be the same age as his father. This situation is distressing, as well as declining relationship of the spouses because of this age paradox. Finally, he is the age of his grandson and his senses continue to transform, so that they correspond to an infant’s mind and in the end fade away completely.
The point of view is quite peculiar because it involves a narrator who tells a story of Benjamin Button, which makes it sound more intimate and true to life. The setting of the story changes alongside with the character’s transformation, however it does change in an opposite direction. The story takes place approximately in the time frame between middle nineteenth and middle twentieth century in the United States, which involves political, economic and social changes. In terms of social standards, the author demonstrates how reputation and image are important for a person to be accepted in the society.
The major dramatic conflict and the theme of the story are related to the concept of age and identity because it appears to have different dimensions. First of all, age is a social phenomenon, which determines communication between people. In this sense, it is partially subjective and partially objective. It is subjective because people’s expectations about the role and behavior that a person should have at a certain age are determined by traditions of society and its stereotypes. Thus, for instance, perception of being thirty today and a hundred years ago is quite different; people are perceived as young longer today. However, there is also objective reality about age and aging, as the author demonstrates in the story. The point is that a person has a different experience and character at a different age. The author tries to say that this is not only absolutely normal to be a different personality at twenty and fifty but also that reverse situation would be a problem. Thus, the conflict of Benjamin and his family is mostly caused by the fact that he does not change according to normal lifecycle patterns. When he gets younger and his wife gets older, including the inner aspects of this age change, this appears to cause the gap between their interests and levels of maturity. So, the dramatic structure of the story reveals that one has to correspond to one’s age in order to live in harmony with oneself and the others. At the same time, identity is another point of interest related to age. The author demonstrates how hard it can be for a person to identify himself: "I can't tell you exactly who I am," replied the querulous whine, "because I've only been born a few hours--but my last name is certainly Button." (Fitzgerald 4).
The symbolism of the story is quite important for the author to convey the meaning. First of all, it is symbolic and allegorical at the level of the overall structure and plot; secondly the author resorts to individual symbols to reinforce his message. As an allegory, the story demonstrates how reverse movement of history and individual human life can complicate his communication in the world. This happens because this movement is opposite to natural cycles, which ensure harmony in the world, and for an individual person. Besides, several symbols are important as they support the author’s point of view. For example, clothes symbolize human identity, which can be changeable and which does not always correspond to a person’s real self. When Benjamin is born, his father ignores the real situation and does not want to buy him suitable clothes: “But a frantic inspection of the boys' department revealed no suits to fit the new-born Button. He blamed the store, of course – in such cases it is the thing to blame the store” ( Fitzgerald 4). This example shows that an identity is very much determined by other people’s expectations.
To conclude, it is worth saying that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a story that reveals the complexity of identity, age, transformation and communication in people’s lives. By making his character live in the reverse direction, the author demonstrates that each stage of human life is different and that it should be in alignment with his age, identity and environment.