In the short story “Buttony” by Fiona McFarlane, an elementary school teacher named Miss Lewis takes the class outside to play a game of Buttony, in which one child would go around to the circle of children and give one of them the button. The children then take turns guessing who has the button until the holder is revealed. This child now has to give the button to someone else and the game repeats. Before they start the game, Joseph, shown as Miss Lewis’ favorite student, kisses the button, something no student has done before. He then continues the game as usual, picking Jyoti, who is described as inferior to Joseph in appearance. The children eventually guess Jyoti, and the game repeats several times, with Joseph being the one chosen every other round. After a few rounds, instead of giving the button to one of his classmates, Joseph this time places it inside his mouth. The children try to guess who has the button, but become furious when they realize that the final person they guess, Jyoti, does not have the button. The students throw temper tantrums, angry that their game has been ruined, before turning on Miss Lewis, believing she has the button. The story then ends with Joseph running towards her with another teacher to save her from the children tackling her.
Throughout the story, Miss Lewis and Joseph’s strange personalities and relationship fascinated me from start to finish, which is why I chose to track Miss Lewis’ references to beauty as well as her characterization. Although most people share an appreciation for anything aesthetically pleasing, Miss Lewis’s character is borderline obsessive in the way she reveres Joseph’s beauty, constantly pointing out his clothes, the way he carries himself, his parents, the way he runs, etc. etc. However, while she is appreciating this beauty, at the same time she seeks to punish it. For example, at the beginning of the story, after admiring and having the other children admire Joseph for getting the button, she then delights in having him perform a mundane task. However, although she decides to punish Joseph’s beauty multiple times throughout the story, why do you think she doesn’t take any immediate action when he hides the button in his mouth? Miss Lewis’ chronic tension throughout seems to be these two desires, while the acute is Joseph hiding the button and what follows after. Miss Lewis also notes from time to time that she “isn’t old yet,” which leads me to believe that one of the reasons for her love for and need to control beauty is a byproduct of her inability to control her own slowly aging appearance. This is in addition to her desire for power, as when she delights in the children clapping and being quiet when told, and how they open their eyes when instructed to do so. However, by the end of the story, Miss Lewis’ desire for both beauty and power becomes her fatal flaw when Joseph utilizes his power as her favorite by hiding the button. This results in Miss Lewis’ loss of power and beauty, as the children turn on her and and attack her.
Why do you think that Miss Lewis doesn’t tell Joseph to take the button out of his mouth immediately?
Why did Joseph put the button in his mouth in the first place? Why did he kiss the button at the beginning?