Out Of The Dust

Karen Hesse


Billie Jo Kelby, the protagonist, or main character, to describe her life from the winter of 1934 through the fall of 1935.Hesse depicts the harsh reality of the Oklahoma Panhandle during the Great Depression. The Oklahoma Panhandle, located in the southwestern Great Plains region of the United States, was known as the Dust Bowl. During the 1920s and 1930s, farmers plowed up grasslands to plant wheat. Drought, violent dust storms, and tornadoes that hit the area caused soil erosion. Consequently, the farmers and their families suffered unbelievable hardship and poverty.
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Billie Jo

Billie Jo is 14 years old when Out of the Dust begins. She lives near Joyce City, Oklahoma, located in the Oklahoma Panhandle, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, with her mother and father. Despite the continual dust storms, Billie Jo and her parents struggle to make the best of a grim situation by living their lives as normally as possible. Her father, a wheat farmer, works what is left of the farm and her mother, a tall, skinny, rather plain woman, spends the majority of her time cleaning house. Billie Jo helps Ma with the house cleaning, a chore that is never-ending because the dust and grit seeps into the house through every crack. Billie Jo's mother is pregnant. The baby's arrival is a long-awaited event that her family is looking forward to.
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Overall, Billie Jo is quite content. She is able to attend school regularly and is the top eighth-grade student in the state of Oklahoma, according to the results of a statewide test. She is saddened when her best friend Livvie leaves the Dust Bowl and moves to California with her family and when rabbits are killed because they are eating farmers' crops, the only vegetation left for them to eat. Billie Jo's joy in life is to play the piano. Her mother, an accomplished pianist, taught her to play when Billie Jo was only five years old. Although she doesn't play as well as her mother, Billie Jo puts her heart into her music and plays a "fierce" piano.When Arley Wanderdale, the music teacher at Billie Jo's school, asks her to play the piano at the Palace Theatre with his band, the Black Mesa Boys, and Mad Dog Craddock (a singer and friend to Billie Jo), she is ecstatic. Ma gives her permission to play, and Billie Jo feels like she is in heaven. To Billie Jo, there is nothing better than playing the piano while the audience snaps their fingers, taps their feet, and sways to the music. Billie Jo is an excellent entertainer, and Arley Wanderdale knows it. He asks Billie Jo to travel to neighboring towns with him and the Black Mesa Boys during the summer months. Billie Jo's mother reluctantly agrees to let her go because she will be supervised by Vera, Arley's wife, and will be earning a little money — something Billie Jo's family desperately needs.