F. Scott Fitzgerald was an American writer most famous for the famous 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Outside of Gatsby, however, he wrote a number of novels and short stories with the characteristic Fitzgerald touch: lush, evocative prose and haunting, poignant story lines.
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is a short story first published in 1922 in Collier’s Magazine. It breaks from Fitzgerald’s traditional style in that it is a story of fantasy – a man is born old and ages backwards in the course of his life. Fitzgerald himself called it the "funniest story ever written" (source). When "Benjamin Button" was anthologized in Fitzgerald’s collection Tales of the Jazz Age, Fitzgerald wrote that he was inspired to write it by a remark made by Mark Twain: "It is a pity that the best part of life comes at the beginning, and the worst part at the end."
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" stayed under the radar of popularity until 2008, when director David Fincher made a film of the story starring Brad Pitt. The script made major changes from the original story, but at least it helped inspire you to read "Benjamin Button," the original.
If you’ve had your finger on the pop culture pulse in the last decade or so, you’ve probably heard sayings like "40 is the new 30," or possibly even "the new 20," depending on whom you ask. When you realize that Madonna is fifty and still making music videos with entertainers like Justin Timberlake, it’s pretty easy to believe in the old "age is just a number" cliché.
But according to Fitzgerald's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," age is much more than just a number. Not only does it dictate our physical condition, but our personality and character traits as well. Benjamin Button isn’t just born with the body of an old man – he’s born with the mind and tastes of an old man. As he gets younger, it’s not just his body that’s more active, but also his social interests and passion for life. According to Fitzgerald, like it or not, age plays a big part in identity. You are going to change as you get older, Fitzgerald tells us, and that’s just the way it goes.
Which isn’t to say that life is downhill after 40. What makes Benjamin unhappy in this story is having to pretend he’s an age that he isn’t. When he’s old, he really just wants to sit around and chat with other old men. When he’s young, he’s satisfied to play with strips of brightly colored paper. In this story of a man growing younger, there may be a lesson or two about aging gracefully.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, 2008
The movie, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, really is very different from Fitzgerald's story. The movie is set in a later time period, and nearly everything about the story, except for the fact that Benjamin ages backwards, is different. We definitely recommend that you watch it, but you probably shouldn't use it as a study tool.
It’s not "Benjamin Button," but it’s classic Fitzgerald
Slate’s audio book club revisits a Fitzgerald Favorite
From the 2008 film
Brad Pitt at 70
Full Text Online
Read "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" before you see the movie. Or after.
A Fitzgerald Biography
Fairly detailed, timeline-style.
The F. Scott Fitzgerald Society
(You know you’ve made it when you have your own society.)