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AnnaPercuoco

AReviewofOutoftheDust

ThereviewsthatappearonthefirstpageofOutoftheDustcouldnothavearticulatedbetter

myfeelingsaboutthisnovel.“Thestoryisbleak,”Booklistreviews,“butHesse’swritingtranscendsthe

gloomandtransformsitintoapowerfullycompellingtaleofagirlwithenormousstrength,courageand

love.”BillyJoisayoungwomanwhoselifeissowroughtwithtrialsthatsheexpectssufferingatevery

turn.Whenthissorrowthreatenstooverwhelmherlikethedustwhichsmothersherfamily’sfarm,she

accessesthis“enormousstrengthandcourage”andbravesthestorm.TherawemotionthatBillyJo

experiencesisperfectlyexpressedthroughstarkpoetrywritteninfirstperson(somethingonwhich

Booklistalsotouches.)Asateacher,thisisoneaspectofthenovelonwhichIwouldfocusmylesson

plans.Accessingemotionthroughpoetryisabeautifulandexcitingpartofliterature,andHeese’swriting

wouldserveastheperfectexample.InthisbriefresponsetoOutoftheDust,IwilladdressHesse’s

useofvariousliterarydevicestoexpressthethemesofhopeanddespair.

Inthebeginning,BillyJoisfullofhopeandhappiness,albeitabitrestless.Inherfirstpoemshe

says,“Icametoofastforthedoctor”(Hesse3)and

“fromtheearliestIcanremember I’vebeenrestlessinthis

littlePanhandleshackwecallhome”(4).

Inherdescriptionofherbirth,shedescribesherselfasbeingbornanadventurous,hurriedlittlegirl.She

doesn’twanttobesittingstilllongenoughforthedusttosettleonher,butwhatcanshedo?Sheis“the

wrongsex”(181)andisastrappedandtiedtoherfather’shouseasheistothelandhefarms.Inone

poem,“FoulasMaggotyStew”,shewritesaboutbeingtiedtothehouseunderhermother’srule.Sheis

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heldbackfromperformingbecausehermotheroftenrefusestoallowhertoleave.Inthispoem,BillyJo

questionshermother’srefusal,angrilystaringatherbackallthewhile(29):

Idon’tknowwhyshe’s soagainstmyplaying. sometimesIthinkshe’s justplainjealous whenI’matthepiano

andshe’snot.(28)

ItisherethatBillyJoacknowledgesthatregardlessofwhyhermotherhasrefusedtoletherperformin

thisinstance,shestillcannotgo.Shelongsforfreedomfromtheserestrictions,asallteenagersdo,but

shealsolongsforfreedomasawoman.

BillyJoremindsmeofEsperanzafromSandraCisernos’TheHouseonMangoStreet,artistic

andambitious,yettrappedandrestrictedbecauseofhersex.IamcurrentlyteachingTheHouseon

MangoStreetinmySpanishIVclass,andtheparallelswithOutoftheDustmakeitaperfect

companiontext.Thetwogirlsareeerilysimilar,asarethetexts.InTheHouseonMangoStreet,a

youngMexicangirltellsthestoryofhermostformativeyearsthroughaseriesofvignetteswithastyleof

prosethatisoftenreadsmorelikepoetry.Throughoutherlifesheexpressesadesiretobemorethana

housewifecaringforamanandtheirchildren;and,likeBillyJo,itisthroughherartthatsheexpresses

thisdesireforfreedom.WhileBillyJo’smusicisherartisticfocus,Esperanzaseesherwritingasthe

bestavenuetofreedom.InoneofthemostrevealingvignettesinTheHouseonMangoStreet,

EsperanzadescribesherfriendAliciaingreatdetail.Alicia,likeEsperanzaandBillyJo,istrappedina

lifewherebeingfemalecomeswithresponsibilitiesthatrestrictherfreedom.Esperanza,inliltingand

poeticprose,quotesAlicia’sfatherinthestory“AliciaWhoSeesMice”:

“…awoman’splaceissleepingsoshecanwakeupearlywiththetortillastar,theonethat

appearsjustintimetoriseandcatchthehindlegsbehindthesink,beneaththefour­clawedtub,

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undertheswollenfloorboardsnobodyfixes,inthecornerofyoureyes”(Cisernos31).

ThedespairshefeelsonbehalfofAliciaispoignantandmirrorsthatofBillyJo’sinthepoemaptlytitled

“HopeSmothered”whenshelearnsthatboysbetweentheagesof18and28arebeingrecruitedtojoin

theCivilianConservationCorps(CCC):

“I’mtooyoung andthewrongsex butwhatIwouldn’tgivetobe workingfortheCCC somewherefarfromhere,

outofthedust”(Hesse181).

ThethemesofhopeanddespairaremostoftenexpressedbyBillyJowhenevershewrites

aboutmusic.Whensheleavestoplaythepianowithatravelingband,shewrites:

“ everylittlecrowd

isgratefultoheararagortwoplayed onthepiano byalong­legged,red­hairedgirl,

evenwhenthepianohasafewkeyssouredbydust.”(49)

Notonlyisthemusicsheplaysametaphorforhope,butthedustisasymbolofdespair.Interpreting

thisstanzainthislight,thespiritofthispoemisclear.BillyJolongstoplaypianobecauseitbringsher

hopeasitdoesheraudience,eventhoughhersongsaretaintedbythedespairofDustBowl,Great

Depressionlife.

Inoneofthelastpoemsofthebook,BillyJowritesabouthowherfather’semotionalabsence

hascausedthedusttofeelevenheavierthanithadbefore.Shesaysofhim:

“Heisrottingaway, likehisfather, readytoleavemebehindinthedust.

Well,I’mleavingfirst”(196).

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Inhisattemptstoescapethedespairofthedust,hehaspulledawayfromherentirely.Nowshehaslost

bothmotherandfather,andisleftorphanedandhomelessinOklahoma(205).Onlywhensheisfinally

abletoexplainherpaintohimisshefreetofindhope.Inthemostmovingpoemofthebook,BillyJo

describesthisjourneyintohope,andhowshehascometodealwithherexperiencewiththedust.

“AndIknownowthatallthetimeIwastryingtoget outofthedust, thefactis, whatIam, Iambecauseofthedust. AndwhatIamisgoodenough.

Evenforme.”(222)

Intheend,BillyJofindshopeinthefactthatlifeismoreaboutthejourneythanthedestination.Thisisa

crucialtruththatIamthrilledtosharewithmystudentsthroughHesse’sbrilliantpoetryinOutofthe

Dust.