The Button: A Literary Analysis of Turn Homeward Hannalee

The Button

 

In the book, Turn Homeward Hannalee, Patricia Beatty uses a persimmon-seed button as an important part of the plot. It is used as a symbol of several things; her promise to Momma, her home in Georgia, and most of all, a reminder to Hannalee of where her heart is.

We’ll take a look at how it is a reminder of her promise, but first let’s find out what that promise is. In the very beginning of the book when Hannalee and her brother are taken from home by the Yankees, Momma and Hannalee are saying a tearful good bye when Momma does something very strange. She takes a button from the top of her dress and gives to Hannalee, and then makes her promise something very important.

“Then she [Momma] did something mighty strange. She jerked one of the persimmon-seed buttons off the top of her dress and gave it to me. She told me softly, “They won’t shoot you and Jem. I just know they won’t. But I think they’ll take you away from here, God knows where. Wherever you go, keep this to remind yourself to come home. Turn your heart to me. Turn homeward, Hannalee! Promise me!’

‘I promise you Mama.’ I [Hannalee] took the button into my hand”

The button reminded her of that promise while she was away. There are three places we will look at. First of all, the moments when she is being taken away from her hometown in Georgia. As the soldiers are taking all the mill hands out of town Hannalee spots Momma waving and cries back: “‘Indiana, They say we’re goin’ to Indiana. I’ll be back. I’ve got the button. Watch out for yourself and the baby.’…As my soldier put his horse into a canter, I turned around to look back at Mama. She wasn’t waving. She had her hand over the top of her dress where she’d pulled off the button I had in my pocket. She was weeping and so was I.”

Second, when the mill hands are being held in Marietta until a train comes to take them to Indiana, Hannalee wants to escape right then. But her older brother’s sweetheart, Rosellen, who is a mill hand too, says no.  “But I promised Mama I’d go home” Hannalee protests. But Rosellen is resolute.

Even though she submitted and got on the train to go to Indiana, her promise was not forgotten.  “I was still set on keeping my word, though. The persimmon-seed button was deep in my apron pocket. The promise was deep in my mind.”   The button motivated her to start forming a plan of escape.  With some ingenuity and Rosellen’s help she was able to keep her little brother with her so it would be easier to escape.

When Hannalee discovers that Rosellen has changed during the time she was working in “Yankee land,” the button is a comforting reminder that didn’t change.  “A cold feeling came over me. I could see that Rosellen had changed up here in Yankee land. It wasn’t just her new clothes. She was different in ways I couldn’t put my finger on. I slid my hand into my pants pocket to take hold of Mama’s persimmon-seed button. As always, the feel of it gave me comfort. It didn’t change”

As she endeavors to find her brother and return home,  the persimmon-seed button is a  reminder of home, of Mama, and the good days before they were kidnapped.  “Touching Mama’s button in my pocket, I asked, “Miz Burton, do you think you could help Sally or Rosellen write a letter home to Georgia to let their folks know they’re all right?”

When she finds her brother and they escape towards home together she shows him her motivator.  “I want to show you somethin’ I been keepin’ secret.’ I reached into my pants pocket and brought out the persimmon-seed button. Jem knew it by sight. He cried, ‘It’s Mama’s!’ ‘Yes and I’m takin’ it home to her. She gave it to me and told me to fetch it back to her. But I’m bringin’ her more’n that. I’m fetchin’ you too. We’ll both take it back to her.”   As Jem and Hannalee walk up the road to their old home Hannalee’s thoughts wander back to the day they were taken away.  “Turn homeward,” Mama had asked me. I’d said I would, and Hannalee Reed always kept her promises.”

When they finally reach home Hannalee finds out that not only did the button motivate her to return home, it kept the ones at home hopeful too.  “Now I handed the old women the persimmon-seed button and said, “Miz Sanders, I’d thank you kindly if you’d give this to the Widow Reed. Tell her that her girl has brung somethin’ home to her again that she gave her last summer…. She [Mama] opened her hand to show me the persimmon-seed button Marilla had given her. Smiling, Mama went on, ‘I reckoned I’d see this again someday–that my pretty older daughter would be bringin’ it home to me.”

Though the button returns to Mama unchanged no one else does. It dawns on Hannalee that everyone, including herself, had changed because of the war, but the button was an important symbol that kept her heart turned towards home.

 

{P.S. I’ve updated my reading list, be sure to take a look}

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Headers

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