Dumplin Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 60-page guide for “Dumplin” by Julie Murphy includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 61 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Society’s View of the Female Beauty and Its Effect on Self-Image and Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.
Dumplin’, a YA novel by author Julie Murphy, is about a small-town Texas teen named Willowdean “Will” Dixon. Will is the book’s main character and first-person narrator. Through Will’s narration, the book tells the story of Will’s weight and how it affects her relationships with her former beauty pageant winning mother, Rosie Dixon; with her pretty best friend, Ellen Dryver; and with her romantic interest and coworker, the heartthrob Bo Larson. However, Will thinks that because she is plus-sized, she doesn’t deserve Bo’s love. The novel, published in 2015 and adapted into motion picture in 2018, addresses themes of body image, grief, and the relationship between mothers and daughters.
Dumplin’ is also a homage to Dolly Parton. Willowdean and her best friend, Ellen, are huge Dolly Parton fans. Will and Ellen met in the first grade when Ellen’s mother and Willowdean’s Aunt Lucy forced the girls to play together. Mrs. Dryver, Texas’s best Dolly Parton impersonator, and Aunt Lucy, the head of the Dolly Parton fan club, also became friends because of a mutual love for Dolly Parton and her music.
At the start of the novel, Willowdean is mourning the death of Lucy. At 36 and 498 pounds, Lucy had a heart attack six months before the novel starts. Despite her weight and the disapproval of her sister, Rosie Dixon, Lucy was a vibrant and confident plus-sized woman. Unlike her sister, Rosie, who repeatedly criticizes her daughter’s weight, Lucy supported and encouraged Willowdean to love herself. Throughout the book, Willowdean is conflicted about body image and the acceptance of plus-sized women. Although Lucy was her favorite person in the world, Will, being overweight herself, doesn’t want to live like Lucy did, with no regard to negative health implications of obesity.
Lucy was like the mother that Willowdean never had because Rosie is obsessed with Southern charm, physical appearance, and the town’s annual Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant. Rosie was crowned Miss Teen Blue Bonnet when she was Willowdean’s age, and she now organizes and runs the pageant. Every year, she squeezes into the dress she wore as a teenager and wears it to the pageant. Rosie is convinced that if Will lost weight, Will would be happy. Will spends much of the book trying to convince her mother that being thin and attractive to men is not going to be what makes Will the happiest.
Willowdean has already attracted the attention of Bo, the handsome boy she met at the fast food restaurant where they both work. Bo shows interest in Willowdean right away. Even after they start kissing each other after work every night, Will is not convinced that she deserves Bo’s attention due to her weight. She cannot accept that his feelings for her could be genuine because she is not traditionally beautiful like Ellen. When she finds out that Bo is transferring from the private school he attended to her high school in the fall, and Bo didn’t tell her this, Will lets her own insecurities about being seen together with Bo at school push Bo away.
Meanwhile, despite their long friendship, Willowdean and Ellen are growing apart. Again, because of Willowdean’s own insecurities and the jealousy she feels toward Ellen’s new friend Callie, Will starts to push Ellen away. When Will and Ellen have the first serious fight of their friendship, Will realizes how much she needs her best friend.
To everyone’s surprise, Willowdean makes the decision to compete in her mother’s Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant, despite being a “fat” girl. During the weeks and days before the pageant, Willow is forced to ask herself what real beauty is. She makes friends with three outsiders at school: Millie, Amanda, and Hannah. Will realizes that despite the girls’ unpopularity, they are all smart, talented, and beautiful in their own way. With the pageant experiences, new and old friendships, and a new admirer in Bo, Willowdean learns more about herself when she learns more about her mother and Lucy. Willowdean wants to know if she can be both beautiful and plus-sized. By the day of the pageant, Will realizes that not everyone is what they appear to be on the outside, including herself.