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Abilene's Compass

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Abilene's most prized possession is… broken.

But don't break out the tissues quite yet—it's been that way for a long time. Luckily, Abilene isn't using the compass for direction (since it's pretty wonky). See, it's her dad's compass, so it's just about her only connection to her father since he sent her away for the summer.

I liked imagining that the chain of that broken compass was long enough to stretch all the way back into his pocket, with him at one end and me at the other. (1.5)

Sappy? Yes. But in terms of literature, we're pretty sure it means something. So let's take a look.

Connect the Dots

Because the compass reminds her of her dad, Abilene tries to keep it safe. But somehow or another, she keeps losing it. Oops. The first time she drops it (right when she arrives in Manifest) Shady gives it back. Crisis averted.

The second time, though, Miss Sadie finds it—and keeps it. Abilene tries to sneak over and snatch it back twice before she agrees to work for Miss Sadie in exchange for it. And she keeps her word: she doesn't take it back until Miss Sadie's done with her. And by then, Abilene knows the truth about the compass—it's the one Miss Sadie gave to her tiny son when she left him in America:

This was Ned's compass, on which Gideon had engraved Ned's date of death and place of burial. Because for my father, that was the day he began his wanderings in the valley of the shadow of death. (39.5)

As usual, Abilene has something that connects people who are spread out over time and distance.

Losing My Direction

But this something is different. Compasses are supposed to point you in the right direction, right? Show you the way? And this one's broken. It's almost as if Gideon is passing down his own lack of direction to his daughter—through the compass. Pretty neat, right?

And every time she loses the compass, the person who gives it back to her is her temporary guide, helping her find her way. First Shady becomes her compass, giving her a place to stay and showing her around. And then Miss Sadie takes over.

And by the time her story is finished, Abilene doesn't need a compass anymore. Now she can guide her own footsteps—and her daddy's, too, for that matter.

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