The setting of Baltimore at the turn of the twentieth century is an important part of the story’s plot and contributes to its major themes. The bewildering nature of Benjamin Button’s life and the astonishingly quick passage of a lifetime is made all the more disconcerting by virtue of the time and place in which the story is set. Maryland’s transition from a Southern agrarian slave state to a state that would focus on shipping and defense production began with the outbreak of the Civil War. Early in the story, Roger Button’s momentary wish that his son was Black so he could be sold as a slave is tied directly to the setting, and is not only ugly and insensitive but certain to be outdated in less than four years’ time.

The rapid changes affecting the American South, as well as the country as a whole, would be no less transformative. For a writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald writing in the 1920s, the rush of change during the early twentieth century would be a constant theme. To write about a man who lives life backward during this time specifically is both an interesting experiment and a powerful device for conveying a sense of excitement and confusion. As time marches forward and society becomes more complex, Benjamin becomes younger and simpler. He becomes less and less able to come to terms with the changing times. Therefore, Benjamin’s experience represents the way the onrush of societal advancement challenges our ability to understand it. If there is a lesson in Benjamin’s life for modern times, it is to encourage us to let go, adapt, and take life as it comes.