The time setting of the novel is unclear, but these events could not have happened before Winn-Dixie grocery stores opened in the 1940s and probably did not occur until after the late 1960s when divorce was more commonly accepted in the South. For the physical locale, DiCamillo sets this charming story in Naomi, Florida, where everyone knows everyone—or at least, people think they know each other. The various settings in the novel emphasize this contrast between what appears to be real and what is real.
The town is populated with seemingly stereotypical characters: a lonely little girl; a preoccupied father; an aging southern belle; a witch in a haunted house; and a criminalized, simple-minded man, among others. DiCamillo plunks them all on the fringes of this small, Southern town and turns a loveable mongrel loose among them, using the "expected" friendliness to assist her characters and emphasize their problems. She focuses on those people who live on the edge of this friendliness, those who are outcast or alone for various reasons, and she uses her settings to emphasize the hurt and need caused by isolation, gossip, and snobbery. In so doing, she creates memorable, rather than stereotypical characters.
The settings within the town also require the reader to look more closely at the characters and their environs. Opal's father is the new preacher at the Open Arms Baptist Church in Naomi. But the church is not actually a church; it is a...
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Because of Winn-Dixie is a quest story in which the structural and literary elements combine to create a sense of intimacy. Each character has an individual journey to make, but when they are brought together by Opal and Winn-Dixie, they are bound together by the answer to one central question: What is the most important thing?
DiCamillo uses the first-person point of view to allow Opal to speak directly to the reader. Opal carries the reader breathlessly through the first chapter with nonstop sentences made up of long phrases often joined by "and" and lacking punctuation. This breathless, confiding voice immediately involves the reader in the excitement of Opal's quest.
The intimate, conversational approach to narrative also allows DiCamillo to establish divisions between the beginning, the middle, and the end of the story. Opal interrupts her narrative in chapter 1 with "This is what happened." The chapters that follow introduce the reader to the three main characters (Opal, Winn-Dixie, and the preacher), set up their individual problems, and establish the central conflict of the story. Again, in chapter 6, Opal stops her tale and addresses the reader with "What happened was this." In these chapters, the reader meets and learns about the other characters who will have significant influences on Opal's quest. Finally, in the last chapter, DiCamillo allows Sweetie-Pie's dialogue to bridge the climax and the final scene, "Tell what...
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Because of Winn-Dixie not only tells a delightful story, but also it addresses several socially sensitive and pertinent issues that many young people encounter today. The story includes references to alcoholism, prejudice, the elderly, death, single-parent families, and the importance of community. Opal's mother is an alcoholic, as is Gloria Dump. However, the contrast between how the two women deal with alcoholism is clearly evident and used to aid Opal in finding solutions to her own problems.
Opal's mother abandons her family, leaving Opal to struggle with self-doubts and insecurities. She remembers very little about her mother and searches for anything that will keep her mother alive to her, similarities between them, stories, "Just ten things, that's all," she tells her father. She also does this when she loses Winn-Dixie: "I memorized it so if I didn't find him, I would have some part of him to hold on to." Not knowing who to blame for her mother's departure, she unconsciously blames her father, widening the emotional distance between them. In contrast to Opal's mother, Gloria Dump remains to combat her alcohol problem. The whiskey bottles on the tree serve to remind her of her past, and she is honest with others about her drinking problem. This honesty provides Opal with the assurance that each person makes his or her own choices about dealing with problems, thus relieving Opal's concern that perhaps she was the reason her mother left....
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Topics for Discussion
1. Why does Opal decide to claim Winn-Dixie as her dog? What is it about Winn-Dixie that people like? How does this decision affect her life and the lives of the other characters?
2. Why is Winn-Dixie afraid of thunderstorms? How does he react to them? How does this relate to one of the themes of the story?
3. List the ten things Opal learns about her mother. Relate these to other events or characters in the story. For instance, does Opal look like her mother?
4. Recount the stories told by Miss Franny, Otis, and Gloria. How do these stories help Opal?
5. Describe why Opal does not like the Dewberry boys. What causes her to change her mind?
6. Why does Gloria ask Opal to plant a tree? How does the tree's name relate to Opal?
7. Gloria is important to Opal for several reasons. Identify and discuss some of these.
8. Explain how the Littmus Lozenge relates to the story. What does it represent to each character? Is it a sad thing, a good thing? Explain.
9. What do you think would happen if DiCamillo wrote a sequel to this story?
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Identify family members or neighbors who seem isolated and lonely. Do an interview with that person, and write about what you learn. Then present your story as a gift to them.
2. Write a report on a community service that addresses the needs of the elderly, alcoholics, or single-parent families.
3. Write a paragraph based on a meeting in an unusual setting.
4. Research a "bottle-tree." Find out how many different cultural interpretations there may be.
5. Choose your favorite candy, and report the history and making of it.
6. The title of the novel suggests the theory of cause and effect. Study this theory, and write a report on one cause/ effect that particularly interests you. This could relate to science, history, psychology, people, and/or relationships.
7. Miss Franny tells of the military service of her ancestor. Identify a veteran in your family. Interview that family member, then write a report on what you learn about veterans or the war in which that person fought.
8. Visit a local animal shelter or pet store. Report on what you find there.
9. Write ten things you remember about someone you miss.
10. Opal possesses good social skills. What are these skills? Research how children develop social skills and how the lack of these skills affects behavior.
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Because of Winn-Dixie is Kate DiCamillo's first book. Her second book, The Tiger Rising, also deals with relationships. Rob Horton, the main character, has recently lost his mother, moved to a new town, and discovers a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel where he lives. The story explores issues of death, grief, unexpressed emotions, and the importance of friendships. It is also available on cassette, published in 2001 and narrated by Dylan Baker for Bantam Books.
Readers interested in stories exploring the relationship between people and their dogs will find My Dog Skip, by Willie Morris, similar in tone to Because of Winn-Dixie. For those seeking stories about similar familial relationships, Joan Bauer's Hope Was Here and Rules of the Road both explore variations of this theme, one with a missing mother and the other with an absentee father. Toby, in Kimberly Willis Holt's book, When Zachary Beaver Came to Town, also seeks understanding after his mother leaves the family: like Opal Buloni, Toby is faced with finding a new definition of family and security within nontraditional structures.
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For Further Reference
Brown, Jennifer M. "Flying Starts: Kate DiCamillo." Publishers Weekly (June 26, 2000): 30. This is a brief article about the author's life, influences on her writing, and her first novel.
"DiCamillo, Kate." In Something about the Author, Vol. 121. Detroit: Gale, 2001. This is a brief introduction to DiCamillo's work that also provides biographical information.
DiCamillo, Kate. "The Wishing Bone." Riverbank Review (Winter 2001/2002): 14-16. This article by DiCamillo discusses the writing process and relates a childhood experience which, for her, holds the same "magic."
H., C. M. Review of Because of Winn-Dixie. The Horn Book (July, 2000): 455. This is a short book review of the novel.
Maughan, Shannon. "A Talk with Kate DiCamillo." http://www.kidsreads. com/authors/au-dicamillo-kate. asp. 2001. A brief interview with the author is presented concerning her life as a writer, influences on her writing, and her new book Tiger Rising.
"Speaking with Kate DiCamillo about Because of Winn-Dixie: A Hymn of Praise to Dogs, Friendship, and the South." Candlewick Press-Authors & Illustrators http: / / www.candlewick.com/authill. asp?b=Author&m=bio&id=1989&pix= n. Accessed March 30, 2002. This publisher's web site includes the author's biographical information and comments on her work.
Swindle, Michael. "Winn-Dixie Woebegone, but Winsome...
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