Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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Identify literary devices in poems on pages 176–189 of Out of the Dust.

Quick answer:

On pages 176–189 in Out of the Dust, there are various literary devices, including alliteration, personification, repetition, similes, onomatopoeia, and symbolism.

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In my copy of this book, the poem "Hope" is found beginning on page 176. There is an example of alliteration in this line:

lacy on the edges of my sleeves.

The repetition of the s sound, even in the c in lacy, might mimic the sweeping sound of a snowfall, which provides the setting for this poem.

Later in this poem, there is an example of personification:

It was the kindest
kind of rain
that fell.

Characterizing the rain as "kind" is giving it a human attribute, and this connotes a sense of peaceful rainfall. There is also a bit of repetition here, emphasizing the "kind" nature of the rainfall.

In the same poem, there is an example of a simile in these lines:

steady as a good friend
who walks beside you,
not getting in your way.

Here, the rainfall is compared to a "good friend," using the word as to demonstrate that comparison. This simile again brings a sense of faithfulness to the rainfall with warm and tranquil tones.

There are various examples of figurative language in these lines as the storm intensifies:

It kept coming,
thunder booming,
dancing from the heavens
down to the prairie.

"Booming," which is a word that demonstrates a sound, is an example of onomatopoeia. Giving lightning the ability to kick, which is a human movement, is another example of personification. The rain "dances" from the heavens to the prairie, which is again personification.

The rain here is a symbol of hope. It has soaked the "ready earth" and provided the necessary elements for new growth. At the end of this poem, Billie Jo is "certain that the grass would grow again," which signals a change for the farmers. In these lines, repetition is used to demonstrate the importance of this symbolic rain:

certain the grass would grow again,
certain the weeds would grow again,
certain the wheat would grow again too.

There is a sense of certainty that the rainfall brings to their lives. They are going to be okay. The wheat will return, and their livelihood will prevail.

Another simile that I particularly like in this section is in the poem titled "Baby":

Then he looked at me
sorry as dust.

To compare her father's disappointment to dust itself is a particularly striking comparison. Often in this book, dust is seen as a symbol of death and hardship. The dust represents the entirety of their struggle in so many ways, reflecting the crushing effects of their economy. Poverty grips this society in seemingly inescapable ways, just like the dust that follows Billie Joe nearly everywhere she goes.

I hope this gets you started as you continue to evaluate the literary devices in this section of the text. Good luck!

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