Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What impresses Billie Jo most about her mother in Out of the Dust?

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In Out of the Dust, Billie Jo is especially impressed by the perseverance her mother shows in the most difficult times, as Ma cares for her family and for others and lives long enough to bring her son into the world.

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In Karen Hesse's poetic novel Out of the Dust, Billie Jo is probably most impressed by her mother's perseverance. Times are hard. The family's crops have failed. Dust is everywhere. Rain is scarce, as are money and hope. Yet Billie Jo's “Ma” perseveres.

Ma continues to do her best to make a comfortable home for her family. She does the best with what she has, cleaning up dust and inventing new strategies to combat it (like turning plates and glasses upside down). She makes meals the family enjoys and even makes treats out of the apples from her apple trees. She saves money to bake a birthday cake for her husband even though she can't buy him a “real present.” Her thoughtfulness is enough.

Ma also perseveres in trying to raise her family's spirits and care for others outside the family. She plays the piano in the evenings so that even when her husband is tired from working all day, he can enjoy some music. Of course, she is tired from working all day, too, but she plays anyway. Billie Jo is always amazed at how her mother knows just how to talk to her father to encourage him. When a charity committee comes around asking for donations, out of the little the family has, Ma gives some jars of applesauce, cured pork, and a little nightgown that she has made for her own baby. Ma even makes Billie Jo go back to the store to return the four cents extra that the shopkeeper mistakenly gave her in change.

Ma continues to persevere after the accident in which she is badly burned. She holds onto life long enough to give birth to her son, even though the baby dies shortly after birth.

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