Out of the Dust by Karen Hessebook analysis | Teen Ink

Out of the Dust by Karen Hessebook analysis

June 27, 2022
By JoannaZhang BRONZE, Shanghai, Other
JoannaZhang BRONZE, Shanghai, Other
2 articles 1 photo 1 comment

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The setting of Out of the Dust is Oklahoma during the thirties of dust bowl as Billie Jo always describe the place as dust. It develops the mood of the book to be depressing and it shows that Billie Jo and her family had hard financial time which let their life be tough. According to history.com: The Dust Bowl was the name given to the drought-stricken Southern Plains region of the United States, which suffered severe dust storms during a dry period in the 1930s. As high winds and choking dust swept the region, people were killed and crops failed across the entire region. The Dust Bowl intensified the crushing economic impacts of the Great Depression and drove many farming families on a desperate migration in search of work and better living conditions.


Oklahoma was in the same situation too. People were running out of food.  Like in page 31 she said: While ma and daddy slept, the dust came, tearing up fields where the winter wheat, set for harvest in June, stood helpless. I watched the plants, surviving after so much drought and so much wind, I watched them fry, or flatten, or blow away, like bits of cast-off rags. The mood is quite sad here because all the foods that farmers planted are dead and people don’t have foods. There are a lot of paragraphs describing the climate. They all express Billie Jo’s depressing feeling toward life. And she always said that she wanted to ‘leave the dust’. It means that Billie Jo wants to leave Oklahoma and go live in better place. For example, in page 104 she said: restless, I tangle in the dusty sheets, sending the sand flying, cursing the grit against my skin, between my teeth, under my lids, swearing I’ll leave this forsaken place.’


On the other hand, when the setting changed, the mood changed too. For example, in page 115, the setting is the president’s ball. The evidence is that tonight, for a little while in the bright hall folks were almost free, almost free of dust, almost free of debt, almost free of fields of withered wheat. Most of the night I think I smiled. And twice my father laughed. imagine. The mood here is quite relaxing. She feels free, happy and enjoyable in a different place, which let her forget about what happened about her mom and the sad things in her home. Another example is in page 132, when Billie Jo is playing piano in palace theatre: I forgot I was even playing in front of the packed palace theatre. I dropped right inside the music and didn’t feel anything till after when the clapping started and that’s when I noticed my hurting straight up to my shoulders. But the applause made me forget the pain, the audience roared when I finished, they came to their feet, and I got the third prize, one dollar……Playing piano and the applause makes billie jo be herself and let go the sad memory that happened to her. I think she is a little proud of herself too.


The conflicts, characters and settings develop the †heme of the whole story to be about even if life is tough, people would still find a way to keep joy in their lives.


First talking about the setting—Oklahoma. The dust bowl and the big depression result in a harsh circumstance for people there. People are running out of food and money including billie jo and her family. This result in tough life for people there and tragedies happening. For example, there is a profile description about the dust bowl in p119: in our classroom this morning, we came in to find a family no one knew……I’m on the look for a job, the man said. The dust blew so mean last night, I thought to shelter my family here a while. I can’t have my wife sleeping in the cold truck, not now. not with the baby coming so soon.’’ This paragraph describes a poor family that don’t have home. And it’s the dust bowl time so they must find a place for shelter. This paragraph seems is describing the family but the author used it to describe the setting and living condition of some people at that time. The man doesn’t have job which is the miniature of many people at that time. Another example is in page 184 that somebody decided to give one baby away. It’s also probably because they don’t have the ability to raise that baby. It shows the bad living condition too.


However, billie jo also finds the joy through living—music. She has the talent and passion on playing piano and piano makes her happy. When she plays, she gets lost in the music. She is confident about her ability to play the piano and loves to entertain at the Palace Theatre with Arley Wanderdale and his band.


Unfortunately, life is unfair for billie jo. After Billie Jo throws the burning pail of kerosene out the door of the house and onto her mom, and after the death of her mom and the newborn baby, she lost herself. Her hands hurt which let her lost the ability to play piano and she felt guilty about her mom’s death. The evidence is in page 195: ‘I am so filled with bitterness, it comes from the dust, it comes from the silence of my father, it comes from the absence of ma.’’ Billie Jo wants to move away from the Dust Bowl, she means of escaping and find a better place to live in. The evidence is in page 196: he is rotting away, like his father, ready to leave me behind the dust. Well, I’m leaving first. In page 198 she said: now I slip under cover of darkness inside a boxcar and let the train carry me west. Out of the dust. During the trip she start facing the truth that she is "her father's daughter." She knows that "the dust is a part of her as it is a part of her father." She realizes that her father didn't turn his back on her; he was grieving as she was. Billie Jo returns home and able to forgive herself and her father. The evidence is in page 206: I am forgiving him, step by step, for the pail of kerosene. As we walk together, side by side, in the sole-deep dust, I am forgiving myself for all the rest. And she is also able to give herself permission to exercise her hands by playing her mother's piano once again.


The protagonist of this story—Billie jo is growing throughout the story. She relieves at the end of the story and forgive herself and her father. At the end of the story at page 217, she said: we weren’t always happy, but we were happy enough until the accident. When I rode the train west, I went looking for something, but I didn’t see anything better than what I already had. Home.

The author's comments:

This is an analysis of the book "Out of the Dust" about the setting and protagonist. I contained many quotes from the original text as evidence to support my arguments. Wish you enjoy!!

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