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.
Opal and the preacher move into the Friendly Corners Trailer Park, which is an all-adult residency. Opal, age ten, explains why she was allowed to live there, "because the preacher was a preacher and I was a good, quiet kid . . . 'an exception.'" The all-adult setting only intensifies Opal's feelings of being "an exception" and feeds her sense of loneliness.
As the story opens, DiCamillo immediately captures the reader's attention by creating an unusual meeting in a very common setting, a grocery store. Opal explains, "my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes and I came back with a dog." The setting for this meeting reinforces the theme of the odd and unusual which is prevalent in the text. Shoppers do not expect to meet dogs in grocery stores. This particular use of setting prepares the reader for the unusual characters that follow and sets the tone for the rest of the story. From start to finish, the contrasts between the expected and the unexpected keep the story moving.
Other venues in the story such as the library, the pet store, and Gloria Dump's backyard, offer more atypical settings for the discovery of answers to Opal's questions. Miss Franny, the librarian, turns out to be far more than the "sad and old and wrinkled" woman she appears to be. She has wonderful stories and magical candy to share. At the pet store, Opal discovers Otis's ability to mesmerize the animals with his music, which he never plays for people, and she also learns he is an ex-prisoner. Gloria Dump's backyard shelters ghosts under trees covered in bottles. These settings symbolize exactly what Opal is searching for: a library is a place where people go to find information and knowledge; the pet store is a place where love can be found; and Gloria Dump and her backyard offer the companionship and comfort that Opal seeks. The settings also enhance the intimate mood of the novel. The library is located in the personal setting of a house, the pet store is filled with soothing music, and Gloria Dump's secluded backyard shuts out the rest of the world. In each of these locations, DiCamillo creates a quiet place conducive to sharing and listening.
In addition, the hot, humid weather in Florida also aids the plot. The sudden thunderstorms expose...
(The entire section is 2,388 words.)