Out of the Dust

by Karen Hesse

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Topics for Discussion

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1. There are some elements in this story that seem a little farfetched, such as Billie Jo's being the top eighth grade student in Oklahoma and her father carelessly leaving kerosene by the stove. Was it necessary to have stretched credibility this far? Couldn't Billie Jo simply have been the top student in her school, and couldn't the fire have started another way to create the same effect?

2. Novels always have a turning point, when the plight of the main character changes direction. Most novels have a major and a minor turning point (called "climax" and anticlimax"). What are they in Out of the Dust? Is it when the good rains come, or when Billie Jo wins third place in the competition, or when she cannot perform at graduation, or when the government sends food aide? Or other events?

3. The chapter entitled "Dust Storm" embodies many of the novel's themes. What are they?

4. In the chapter "Dust Storm" Billie Jo says that she finds her way by walking along the edge. How does this become a symbol for how she deals with her life?

5. There are several chapters that border on becoming too sentimental. What are they? How does sentimentality undermine true emotions.

6. Why does Pa dig a gigantic hole? What does it symbolize?

7. What do Ma's apple trees symbolize?

8. The grasshoppers attack what little remains of the vegetation, and the apple trees are completely eaten. What does this event symbolize? Why does it occur when it does? What are the biblical occurrences in which locusts plague a people.

9. What is the function of the homeless family moving into the school house?

10. Is the ending too contrived or sentimental? Is it plausible that Bayard would attend school with mostly women, find an eligible woman in the guise of the teacher who is far more educated and attractive than he, and be able to win her affections? Why would she be interested in him.

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