Today, F. Scott Fitzgerald is known for his novels, but in his lifetime, his fame stemmed from his prolific achievement as one of America's most gifted story writers. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," a witty and fantastical satire about aging, is one of his most memorable stories.
In 1860 Benjamin Button is born an old man and mysteriously begins aging backward. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life -- he goes to war, runs a business, falls in love, has children, goes to college and prep school, and, as his mind begins to devolve, he attends kindergarten and eventually returns to the care of his nurse.
This strange and haunting story embodies the sharp social insight that has made Fitzgerald one of the great voices in the history of American literature.
Reading Group Guide for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
This reading group guide contains an introduction, questions for discussion , and suggestions to further enhance your book club.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is best known for classic jazz age novels such as The Great Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, but the acclaimed writer’s impressive canon also boasts some 160 published short stories. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” first appeared in Collier’s in 1922 and was one of several fantasy stories for which Fitzgerald garnered widespread praise in his lifetime. “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”is the heartbreaking and often humorous tale of a man who ages in reverse through the course of his long and highly unconventional life.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. How does Fitzgerald use tone and style to create a world that is fantastical and dreamlike, yet realistic?
2. How does Fitzgerald employ humor in the story? In what ways is the idea of someone aging in reverse inherently humorous?
3. By the time Benjamin takes over his father’s company, his relationship with his father is dramatically different. Fitzgerald writes, “And if old Roger Button, now sixty-five years old, had failed at first to give a proper welcome to his son he atoned at last by bestowing on him what amounted to adulation.” Benjamin’s reverse aging is responsible for many of the highs and lows of his relationships with his father and his son. Do you think these relationships in some ways parallel those of all fathers and sons?
4. How does this story, though written almost a century ago, reflect our society’s current attitude toward age and aging?
5. What is ironic about Benjamin marrying a “younger” woman? What does the story reveal about our perceptions of age and beauty?
6. The happier Benjamin becomes in his career, the more strained his marriage grows. Fitzgerald writes, “And here we come to an unpleasant subject which it will be well to pass over as quickly as possible. There was only one thing that worried Benjamin Button: his wife had ceased to attract him.” Why does he fall out of love with Hildegarde?
7. How does Fitzgerald use Benjamin’s condition to ridicule social norms?
8. How does Benjamin’s reverse aging ironically mirror the modern midlife crisis?
9. When Benjamin returns from the war, Hildegarde, annoyed with his increasingly youthful appearance, says, “You’re simply stubborn. You think you don’t want to be like any one else. . . . But just think how it would be if every one else looked at things as you do—what would the world be like?” Later Fitzgerald writes of Roscoe, “It seemed to him that his father, in refusing to look sixty, had not behaved like a ‘red-blooded he-man’ . . . but in a curious and perverse manner.” What is significant about their attitudes? How is it ironic that Hildegarde and Roscoe seem to believe that Benjamin should control his aging?
10. Why do you think that fantasy and stories that manipulate time are so popular in our culture at the moment? What are some of the films, TV shows, and books that reflect these trends? Are you a fan of fantasy and stories that play with time, or do you prefer more traditional forms of storytelling?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Read other books about characters who age in reverse, such as The Confessions of Max Tivoli
by Andrew Sean Greer, The Body by Hanif Kureishi, and the Fitzgerald-inspired story collection The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,Apt. 3W by Gabriel Brownstein.
2. Host a movie night. Check out the new David Fincher film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchettor pick up The Great Gatsby, starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford.
3. Learn more about Fitzgerald at http://www. fitzgeraldsociety.org.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1896. He attended Princeton University, joined the United States Army during World War I, and published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, in 1920. That same year he married Zelda Sayre and for the next decade the couple lived in New York, Paris, and on the Riviera. Fitzgerald's masterpieces include The Beautiful and the Damned,The Great Gatsby, and Tender Is the Night. He died at the age of forty-four while working on The Last Tycoon. Fitzgerald's fiction has secured his reputation as one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century.