Because of Winn-Dixie

by Kate DiCamillo

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What are the ten things about Opal's mother told by her father in Because of Winn-Dixie?

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Opal's father tells her that her mother was funny, had red hair, liked to plant things, could run fast, couldn't cook, loved stories, knew all the constellations, hated being a preacher's wife, drank a lot, and loved her daughter very much. Having this list of facts helps Opal to become less shy and start conversations with potential friends.

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Opal's mother ran out on the family when Opal was just three years old. Naturally, she has no real memories of her mother, and so, on the occasion of her tenth birthday, she asked her father to tell her ten facts about her mother. Here's what she was told:

  1. Her mother had a great sense of humor and could make anyone laugh.
  2. She had red hair and freckles.
  3. She was great at planting things.
  4. She could run really fast.
  5. She couldn't cook at all.
  6. She loved good stories, especially ones that would make her laugh.
  7. She knew all the constellations.
  8. She didn't enjoy being a preachers wife, especially since she wasn't a good cook.
  9. She enjoyed drinking alcohol, often a little too much.
  10. Last but not least, Opal's mother loved her daughter very much.

These facts tie into the rest of the story because it is telling people about them that starts to win her new friends. With her confidence bolstered as a result of Winn-Dixie being by her side, she starts to break out of her shell of loneliness by talking to other people, and part of some of these conversations involves her telling them about her mother.

The fact that Opal later makes up another list of ten things—this time a list of things about Winn-Dixie, after she thinks she has lost her dog in a thunderstorm—shows that the initial list of ten had brought comfort and purpose to her life in a profound way. In a nutshell, the list of ten facts about her mother allowed Opal to begin to heal and to look forward to a future filled with friends and love.

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Opal’s father is a preacher and has recently moved them to Naomi, Florida. Opal finds few children of her age to play with and is very lonely. She begins thinking a great deal about her mother, who left her father and her when she was three years old. When Opal acquires Winn-Dixie, it is almost as though her new pet is urging her to find out more information about her mother. When she asks her father to tell her ten things about her mother, since she is now ten years old, he obliges:

  1. Opal’s mother could make anyone laugh.
  2. Opal’s mother had red hair and freckles.
  3. Opal’s mother liked to plant things. She could grow anything.
  4. Opal’s mother was a fast runner, and everyone knew not to let her get a head start.
  5. Opal’s mother was a really bad cook who could not even boil water.
  6. Opal’s mother loved stories and could listen to them all day. She especially liked funny stories.
  7. Opal’s mother never grew tired of looking at the constellations in the night sky.
  8. Opal’s mother hated being a preacher’s wife because of the constant criticism she felt she received from the members of the church.
  9. Opal’s mother loved to drink.
  10. Opal’s mother loved Opal very much, even though she ended up leaving her.

Many of the characteristics of Opal’s mother are actually shared by Opal herself. Opal enthusiastically memorizes these ten things about her mother, believing that if she can recite them, it will encourage her mother to stay when she comes back. She then goes out around town with Winn-Dixie, finding other lonely people. Knowing what it is like to feel lonely, she decides to share the ten things about her mother with the other lonely people, which leads some, like Gloria Dump, “the witch,” to open up to her in friendship. Gloria Dump suggests Opal try planting something in Gloria’s yard to see if she has a green thumb like her mother did, giving her a reason to keep returning to visit.

As Opal continues to befriend more lonely people, she tells her father the stories about each one, thinking that these stories will make her mother laugh when she returns and help keep her there with them. When Winn-Dixie runs away in a thunderstorm, she compiles a list of ten things about Winn-Dixie, memorizing it as well so that she will have something to hold on to. It is then that she realizes that the list doesn’t even begin to characterize her special dog and that the ten things she knows about her mother don’t actually tell her much either.

They find Winn-Dixie, and Opal goes away to her little tree that is now growing to tell her mother that the ten things she knows about her aren’t really enough, but that she will learn more. She realizes she doesn’t feel lonely anymore, because all her equally lonely friends have been brought together by her and Winn-Dixie, she has grown closer to her father because of all the stories she has shared with him while gathering stories for her mother, and her life is now filled with the love of her father, her dog, and her many friends. Thus, the ten things about her mother didn’t help her get her mother back, or even learn enough about her mother to truly know her, but they helped her fill the void of loneliness in her life as she reached out to other people, and they brought the little community together.

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In Chapter 4, the Preacher tells Opal ten things about her mother.  They are:

  1. She could make anyone laugh
  2. She had red hair and freckles like Opal.
  3. She was good at growing things (and liked to).
  4. She could run really fast.
  5. She did not know how to cook.
  6. She loved to listen to stories.
  7. She knew all the constellations and planets in the sky.
  8. She hated being a preacher's wife.
  9. She drank too much.
  10. She loved Opal very much.

To me, the only real connection here is that Opal is able to start to try to fit in with the society in Naomi.  Knowing something about her mother, she is more confident and more ready to go out and interact with people.

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What ten things does Opal ask her father about her mother in the book Because of Winn-Dixie?

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