Because of Winn Dixie Summary

Kate DiCamillo

Because of Winn Dixie

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Because of Winn Dixie Summary

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Kate Dicamillo’s book Because of Winn-Dixie begins with a lonesome 10-year-old girl named Opal Buloni. Opal and her father, who is a preacher, have recently arrived in a little Florida town. Opal’s father is extremely busy and she does not see as much of him as she would like.

The children in the town, and at church, are standoffish and judgmental. Opal quickly comes to feel that she does not have a place. This idea of home, and sanctuary, is a pivotal theme in the book. Is a town, in itself, a place? Or does a town amount to the people who live there? Do the people have worth on their own, or only in relation to how they make other people feel?

After arriving and failing to adjust, Opal makes a friend, finally. However, it is not the sort of friend she had imagined. On a trip to the Winn-Dixie grocery store, she encounters an ugly stray dog—“like a big piece of brown carpet that had been left out in the rain”—and adopts him. She names him Winn-Dixie, after the store. The dog will be the key that allows Opal to better understand her absent mother, the town, a new level of maturity, and peace.

Shortly after taking the dog home, her father agrees to tell her ten things about her mother. These sections of the book are especially poignant, as Opal grows closer to her mother, while not having access to her. Her father gets this idea because of Winn-Dixie, which is the recurring plot device.

As Opal expands her horizons and meets new people in town, she judges them quickly, as children do. For instance, a woman named Gloria Dump who lives in a spooky house with an unkempt yard is rumored to be a witch. Opal assumes it must be true, until she meets Gloria (because of Winn-Dixie) and they become friends. It turns out that Gloria is a recovering alcoholic, and mostly blind. She hangs empty bottles from a tree, and their clinking reminds her of past mistakes, and future resolutions.

In another instance, Opal goes to a pet store to buy a leash for Winn-Dixie. She makes an arrangement with a worker named Otis. She will help out at the store until she has earned the leash. Opal becomes friendly with Otis, but then learns that he is an ex-convict. She knows that this means he did something “bad,” and she witnesses Otis being shunned and mocked by some people. However, she knows that there is a good side to him. One night she finds Otis playing the guitar for all of the rapt animals in the pet store, and it is “the loveliest music” she has ever heard.

The more she gets to know the people, the better Opal becomes at looking beneath the surface. By doing so, she gains a level of empathy for her mother, and for the ways in which she herself might be a better friend. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” could easily have been the tagline for Because of Winn-Dixie.

The major themes in the book are friendship, family, tolerance, and the value of letting people make their own first impressions.  Because of Winn-Dixie is light on plot, but this in no way sacrifices the quality of the book, which focuses on the characters in town, and Opal’s epiphanies as she gains understanding.

Because the book is aimed at children who are eight years old and above, the questions it asks are perfectly timed for their development. What does it take to make friends, and to be a friend? What does it mean if a dog is better at making friends than some people are? What is the potential cost of mocking someone, or being mocked? What is the cost of abandonment? How should children first be exposed to weight subjects such as grief, death, alcoholism, and abandonment? Is it ever wrong to forgive?

The book asks big questions, but is elegant and accessible in its execution. No child reader will feel as if he or she is being forced to theorize or philosophize while reading Because of Winn-Dixie, but they can only come away from the book enriched, as evidenced by the universal praise the novel has received, including the prestigious Newberry Medal.

Children, as evidenced by Opal’s reaction to the people in her new town, are the most likely to sum people up at a glance. And yet, children are those most likely to be damaged by receiving an unfavorable, unjustified snap judgment from someone else. Perhaps most importantly, Because of Winn-Dixie illustrates that, as isolating as loneliness can feel, as long as there is one other person out there, there is a potential cure for those feelings of isolation. The novel shows that there is always a way to be happy, and something new to try, as long as you can find friends and people who understand you.