Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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What is the meaning of the similes in Out of the Dust?

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Out of the Dust takes the form of a diary in verse in which the narrator, Billy Jo, uses a large number of similes, one of the most common literary devices for making comparisons (specifically with "like" or "as"). She also frequently uses metaphors (comparisons without "like" or "as"). Both the overall verse form and the quality of the poems show that Billy Jo is creative and imaginative. She looks with visionary eyes not only at herself and the people in her life, but also at the world around her.

Some of the comparisons she makes are concerned with the dust and its effects on the crops. In this verse, for example, she uses personification to make the wheat seem human as it “stood helpless,” then uses a simile for the way they looked “like bits of cast-off rang” when dust-blown. She then uses a simile for the dust’s fierce, powerful action—“like a fired locomotive”—and then contrasts her own “breathless” state to the metaphorically personified dust’s breath-like sound—“the dust hissed”—thus emphasizing that the dust has greater power than she does.

The dust came,

tearing up fields where the winter wheat,

set for harvest in June,

stood helpless.

I watched the plants,

surviving after so much drought and so much wind,

I watched them fry,

or

flatten,

or blow away,

like bits of cast-off rags.

It wasn't until the dust turned toward the house,

like a fired locomotive,

and I fled,

barefoot and breathless, back inside,

it wasn't until the dust

hissed against the windows . . .

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