Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What type of literary device is found between pages 75 and 92 of Out of the Dust?

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Karen Hesse's poetic novel Out of the Dust features literary devices like symbolism, comparison, hyperbole, metaphor, personification, simile, sensory imagery, and flashback.

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Karen Hesse's novel Out of the Dust is rather unique overall, because it is composed of a series of poems rather than a prose narrative. Throughout those poems, Hesse incorporates many different literary devices. Let's look at a few of them.

In the poem "Roots" (page 75 in the edition I'm using), tree roots become a symbol. Trees dig down deep into the ground, just like Billie Jo's father is rooted deep in the land and will stay there no matter how hard life is. Billie Jo, however, isn't sure of her roots. She wonders if she is meant to be where she is like the prairie grass and the hawks or if she is more like a tree, out of place on the Oklahoma prairie.

The poem "The Hole" (pages 77–78) also carries symbolism. Billie Jo's father is digging a hole just as his dead wife wanted. Billie Jo cannot understand why he's doing it, and he doesn't tell her, but readers are invited to wonder if the hole he is digging symbolizes the hole in his heart caused by his wife's death. Billie Jo has her own hole in her heart, for she misses her mother, and she cannot yet forgive her father for leaving the pail of kerosene by the stove.

In "Kilauea" (page 79), Billie Jo compares the volcanic eruption in Hawaii to the dust storms of Oklahoma. She presents an extended description of the eruption with its choking smoke and invites readers to imagine how the dust storm is similar and different.

While the author does not elaborate on the symbolism of "Boxes" (page 80), she suggests that each of the items in the boxes in Billie Jo's closet somehow represents her life, or at least parts of it. Notice, too, the hyperbole or exaggeration. There are not "a thousand things" in those boxes, but perhaps Billie Jo feels as if there are.

The poem "The Path of Our Sorrow" (pages 83–84) features metaphor. The idea of sorrow traveling down a path or a person traveling a path with "a thousand steps" to get to sorrow is metaphoric in itself. That sorrow "climbs up our front steps" (personification), is as "big as Texas" (simile), and has been traveling toward the characters even as they moved toward it.

"Almost Rain" (page 88) offers both the vivid sensory imagery of low-hanging clouds, thick-feeling air, the smell of rain, and contrast, for the anticipated rain only dampens the sidewalks.

"Those Hands" (page 89) presents a flashback of Billie Jo's past conversation with her coach and a contrast with the lack of such a conversation this year when her hands hurt too much for her to play.

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