Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What lesson does Billie Jo learn in "Out of the Dust"?

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One of the most important lessons Billie Jo learns is that she can't run away from her problems.  At one point in the story, she runs away, intending to go west to seek a better life.  She is "filled with bitterness", and thinks "it comes from the dust, it comes from the silence of (her) father, it comes from the absence of Ma" (July 1935).  Billie Jo quickly learns that "getting away, it (isn't) any better...just different...and lonely...lonelier than the wind...emptier than the sky...more silent than the dust piled in drifts between (her) and (her) father" (August 1935).

When Billie Jo returns from her ill-fated trip, she discovers that a better strategy for solving her problems than running away is to talk to people, especially her father.   She tells him about the things that are troubling her, about "getting out of the dust and how (she) can't get out of something that's inside (her)".  By initiating communication, Billie Jo discovers that her father is "scared too", and she begins to forgive him "for the pail of kerosene...and...(herself) for all the rest" (August 1935).

By establishing relationship with those around her, and by learning to let go, Billie Jo comes to understand that "all the time (she) was trying to get out of the dust, the fact is, what (she is), (she is) because of the dust...and what (she is) is good enough" (November 1935).  She learns that "hard times aren't only about money, or drought, or dust...hard times are about losing spirit, and hope, and what happens when dreams dry up" (December 1935).

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