The story’s dry and absurdist humor at the outset gives way at the very end to a more wistful and poignant tone. This shift gives Fitzgerald’s classic a tenderness and surely contributes to its staying power. The first several pages of the story have the feeling of immediacy. The sequence of events takes place in the first days of Benjamin’s life and provides much of the story’s humor. The absolute obstinacy of everyone involved, from Roger Button to the hospital staff, is completely absurd. Here we have a novel situation that defies everything we know about human biology, and yet the characters are focused only on how embarrassing it is. The result is farce after farce. The image of a seventy-year-old Benjamin stuffed into a crib and swaddled in nothing but a white blanket is ridiculous and hilarious. So too is Roger Button’s fumbling as he tries to save face by forcing his septuagenarian son to drink only milk and play with rattles. 

As the story progresses, however, the tone shifts to a less humorous one. Benjamin is presented as an earnest man trying to make his way in a world in which he has no place. This produces moments of drama, such as Benjamin’s rejection from Yale and his falling in love with Hildegarde. When Benjamin returns from the Spanish-American War, the story’s tone completes its shift from humor to poignancy and hints at sadness ahead. Benjamin realizes his condition is permanent and that he will soon lose the people he loves. The rest of the story is one of inevitability. While everyone else’s time of death is an open question, Benjamin’s is fixed. His life becomes a countdown to infancy and finally obsolescence. It is therefore a kind of mercy to watch Benjamin’s mind devolve as he ultimately becomes unaware of the coming oblivion. The shift in tone over the course of the short story gives the tale true gravitas and in the end leaves the reader more apt to contemplation than laughter.