Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What is the tone of the poems in "Summer 1935" and "August 1935" in Out of the Dust, and how does it relate to Billie Jo's current character?

Quick answer:

Billie Jo's tone in the "Summer 1935" section is bitter and resentful (as in "Midnight Truth") before it becomes regretful in "Homeward Bound." The poems that follow in the autumn, however, adopt a more hopeful and accepting note.

Expert Answers

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By the summer of 1935, Billie Jo is fed up with dust and depression and hardship and regret. She still grieves for her mother, suffers with pain in her hands, and resents her father's distance. These trials and emotions show up in the tone pf the poems from that summer. Let's look at a couple examples. In "Midnight Truth," Billie Jo is bitter. Her mother is dead, turning to "rock and dust and wind." Her father refuses to understand or reach out to her, and she feels as though he doesn't love her. She remembers how things once were, but there is nothing left of that now. She feels invisible and alone, and she resents it. She is ready to leave.

Billie Jo defiantly leaves home, climbing onto a train heading west, hoping to find a new life. But she does not. All she sees is more of the same. She meets people just as down and out as the people of her own town. There is nothing new. So she goes home. In "Homeward Bound," labeled "August 1935," her tone is regretful. Realizing that she has made a mistake, she is going home. She knows that she should have tried harder to fix the problems between her and her father, for she has been much lonelier out on the road.

In the autumn of 1935, Billie Jo's poems introduce a note of hope. In "Cut It Deep," Billie Jo becomes more accepting of both her father and herself. She becomes more hopeful about the spots on her father's face and about her own damaged hands, especially after the doctor tells her to use her hands so they can heal. Finally, too, Billie Jo and her father have a real conversation, and Billie Jo realizes that they can have a relationship.

Then, in "The Other Woman," Billie Jo meets Louise, the woman with whom her father is beginning a relationship, and in spite of herself, Billie Jo likes her. Again, her tone is hopeful, even a little expectant, that things might turn out all right, even though she is still a little reluctant about Louise.

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