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Characters

Benjamin Button

Character Analysis

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
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