The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Benjamin's wife Hildegarde, like Roger Button, is yet another character who resents Benjamin for his reverse aging and demands that he change it immediately. What is interesting is that she approaches the issue as if Benjamin has a choice. She and their son Roscoe both reprimand Benjamin and are embarrassed to have any connection to him. Again, personal pride and public reputation are calling the shots.
But Hildegarde’s character is also a necessary one in that we get to see her aging, normally. She provides a contrast to Benjamin. By describing the changes Hildegarde goes through, Fitzgerald is able to comment on the nature of aging for the rest of us without taking the spotlight off Benjamin’s curious story. "As a bride it been she who had ‘dragged’ Benjamin to dances and dinners," explains the narrator, " – now conditions were reversed. She went out socially with him, but without enthusiasm, devoured already by that eternal inertia which comes to live with each of us one day and stays with us to the end" (1.7.7). There’s that nugget of universal truth – there is something relatable and ordinary here, buried in the story of something exotic and unreal.
It’s also interesting – and again, part of the story’s humor – that Hildegarde marries Benjamin for his age. It’s just that she gets his age wrong at the time. "I like men of your age," she tells Benjamin.
[Hildegarde:] Young boys are so idiotic. They tell me how much champagne they drink at college, and how much money they lose playing cards. Men of your age know how to appreciate women. […] You're just the romantic age […], fifty. Twenty-five is too wordly-wise; thirty is apt to be pale from overwork; forty is the age of long stories that take a whole cigar to tell; sixty is – oh, sixty is too near 70; but fifty is the mellow age. I love fifty. […] I've always said […] that I'd rather marry a man of fifty and be taken care of than many a man of thirty and take care of him. (1.6.15-18)
Hildegarde understands the role age plays in determining a person’s character, which is one of the central themes of "Benjamin Button."