In Karen Hesse's Out of the Dust, how would Billie Jo's life be different if she was a boy?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The theme of differences in gender roles is definitely expressed all throughout Karen Hesse's novel Out of the Dust. Protagonist Billie Jo Kelby even mentions that when she was born, her parents had been hoping for a boy, especially her father. Her parents particularly wanted a boy to help with farm labors. Though she is able to do whatever task her father tells her to do, including drive the tractor, she sees that her life would have much more freedom if she had been born a boy.

One way in which she realizes her life is restricted as a girl concerns joining the Civilian Conservation Corps, which she refers to as the CCC. The CCC was a program President Franklin Roosevelt started in 1933, along with other New Deal programs, as a means of creating more jobs to put an end to the Great Depression. Young men in the CCC worked manual labor jobs to preserve the "nation's natural resources," such as repairing damage caused by erosion (United States History, University of South Florida School of Information, "Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)"). They especially participated in a reforestation program.

In the chapter tiled "Hope Smothered," Billie Jo informs the reader that a "Mrs. Love is taking applications for boys to do CCC work." She further tells us, "What I wouldn't give to be working for the CCC somewhere far from here, out of the dust." Hence, Billie clearly sees that if she was a boy, she would be permitted to go where boys go and do work boys do, which would liberate her from the Dust Bowl.

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