Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What literary devices are used on pages 153–175 of Out of the Dust?

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In pages 153–175 of Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse uses metaphor, idioms, personification, vivid sensory language, parallelism, simile, and dialogue.

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Karen Hesse's poetic novel Out of the Dust is filled with interesting literary devices. Let's look at a few from pages 153–175. The title of the very first poem in this section is actually a metaphor : “Heartsick.” Billie Jo's physical heart is perfectly fine, but her emotions are...

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agitated. She even storms (another metaphor) away from her father when he asks her what's going on.

Billie Jo tends to use such metaphoric idioms frequently. She worries that her father is “fooling around” about the raised spot on his nose (“Skin”), and she bumps into her musical friends sometimes (“Regrets”). The “fire boys tore over” to fight the boxcar fire (“Fire on the Rails”). In this last poem, she also personifies the flames, describing them as “crazy in the wind” and noting that they “licked away” at the boxcars. Notice, too, Billie Jo's sensory details; we can easily picture the “warped metal,” “twisted rails,” “scorched dirt,” and “charred ties.” This is also a nice example of parallelism with the list of adjectives and nouns.

In “The Mail Train,” Billie Jo once again uses metaphor and personification when she speaks of “mountains of dust” and “blizzards of dust” that block that train and “beat down on the cars.” Further, a letter, again personified, is “waiting inside a mail bag.” The poem “Migrants” features a wonderful simile. The wheat is “sparse as the hair on a dog's belly.”

The very title of “Blankets of Black” is a metaphor, and the poem is filled with literary devices. Billie Jo talks about how on a clear day, she and her neighbors stagger (vivid language) out of their “caves of dust” (metaphor). They “flocked outside” (metaphoric idiom), and the churches “opened their arms” (personification). A while later, however, “heaven's shadow” (metaphor) creeps across the plains. It is a black cloud “big and silent as Montana” (simile) that barrels toward them (personification). The storm swallows the light, and the wind screams (personification). The house where Billie Jo and her father take shelter is “dazed by dust” (personification), and its walls shake “in the howling wind” (personification).

Billie Jo offers readers a bit of dialogue between Mad Dog and herself in “The Visit.” In “Freak Show,” she is appalled at how the Dionne quintuplets are displayed “like a freak show” and “like a tent full of two-headed calves” (simile). Finally, in “Let Down,” Billie Jo, in a metaphor, thinks that she and her father are both “turning to dust.”

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