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 former Pick-It- Quick store where the congregation sits on lawn chairs. However, it is a friendly place. The members even welcome Winn-Dixie when he succeeds in catching one of the mice that populate the building.
(The entire section is 690 words.)