“As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anesthetic air of a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a hospital.”

This quote comprises the opening passage of the story and establishes the instability of customs and tradition as a central theme. The narrator’s tongue-in-cheek tone gently mocks the way something as serious as childbirth can change willy-nilly. The tone suggests that the custom of home birth hasn’t changed out of medical necessity so much as because it is no longer fashionable. This passage sets the stage for a story in which rapid societal change is the norm.

“‘But 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.’”

Hildegarde says this to Benjamin in Part 8 upon his return from fighting in the Spanish-American War. Hildegarde absurdly blames Benjamin for his continuing to grow younger, but the quote can also be read as Hildegarde’s frustration with the instability of tradition. Benjamin represents the rapidly changing world. Whether there is a “right way” and a “wrong way” to do things is irrelevant. Time will march on, things will change, traditions will die, and nothing Hildegarde or anyone else says about this process can stop it.