Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What are some examples of hyperboles and onomatopoeia in pages 87–124 of Out of the Dust?

Quick answer:

In pages 87–124 in Out of the Dust, hyperbole is used in reference to emotion and the weather. Onomatopoeia is used for the sound of rain.

Expert Answers

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Hyperbole is extreme exaggeration for effect. One example can be seen when Billie Jo’s teacher, Miss Freeland, explains how the Dust Bowl developed ("September 1934 / The Path of Our Sorrow"; pages vary by edition). As she concludes, she mentions the sorrow people feel at the loss of their livelihood. Billie Jo uses hyperbole to describe the vastness of their emotion: “sorrow climbs up our front steps, / big as Texas.”

Other examples of hyperbole relate to the weather. In her frequent descriptions of the dust, Billie Jo sometimes emphasizes the huge amounts that accumulate ("January 1935 / Driving the Cows"). She uses “mountains” for the large piles.


piles up like snow

across the prairie…

mountains of dust pushing over barns….

When it finally begins to rain again, the long period of drought is finally broken ("January 1935 / First Rain"). Billie Jo emphasizes the rain’s effect as well as the strong emotions that people feel after it stops.

[T]he rain changes everything…

when the clouds lift…

everyone, everything, grateful for this moment…

When the school receives lunches from the government program, the students overeat ("January 1935 / Lunch"). Billie Jo relates their exaggerated claims: “they swore they'd never eat again.”

Billie Jo decides to enter a piano-playing contest ("February 1935 / Dreams"). She has not played since her hands were injured, but she is motivated by the prize money and her desire to succeed. She uses hyperbole in explaining this “hunger.”

I have a hunger

bigger than Joyce City.

Onomatopoeia is the use of words that correspond to the sounds made by the things explicitly or implicitly referenced. The things can be natural—such as people, animals, or environmental forces—or objects.

Billie Jo describes the sound of the first raindrops as they hit the tin roof ("January 1935 / First Rain"). The coined word she uses, “ponging,” is an example of onomatopoeia.

It strokes the roof,

streaking the dusty tin,


a concert of rain notes…

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