Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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In the poem "Something Lost, Something Gained," what was lost and gained, physically and mentally?

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In the poem "Something Lost, Something Gained" from Out of the Dust, Billie Jo’s biscuits were physically lost and the man’s family photograph was gained. Mentally, she lost her desire to run away and gained friendship, a broader perspective, and an appreciation for her home and father.

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In Out of the Dust, the poem "Something Lost, Something Gained" from August 1935 tells of Billie Jo’s experience running away from home and befriending a man on the freight train. Feeling unable to endure the suffocating dust any longer and still resentful of her father, Billie Jo had—like so many other people during the Great Depression—hopped a freight train.

As this poem begins, a disheveled man climbs into the car she is riding in. This dirty, smelly, very sad looking man strikes up a conversation with her and shows her a photograph of his wife and children. He has left because he felt helpless to provide for them. Billie Jo shares her biscuits with him.

They end up talking through the night until she falls asleep. Billie Jo is able to open up about her mother and her distance from her father. She gains a friend in this stranger, but even more important, she comes to understand that other people are even worse off than she is. This man lost his farm, but her father has held onto their land.

When she wakes up, “the man was gone, and so were my biscuits.” She has lost her only food. He has left her the photograph, including an address. This experience ends her desire to run away, and she realizes she misses her solid, responsible father. At the next stop, she gets off and begins to arrange her return.

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