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Written by Shyla Minocha
"Because of Winn-Dixie" revolves around friendship. Beginning with a lonely Opal India who finds a kindred soul in a stray dog and takes him home, the theme of friendship is prevalent throughout. Opal is a kind-hearted young girl, her loneliness is remedied by the friendly dog whom she adopts and names Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie becomes her companion and support in a strange new town. Together they keep each other safe, happy and make friends wherever they go. The two of them have a strong inseparable bond and heal one another demonstrating the power of friendship. They become friends with several characters - Gloria Dump, Miss Franny Block, Otis, Sweetie Pie and more. Everyone benefits from the relationship formed. Old Gloria Dump receives a breath of fresh air with her new young companions who listen to her life advice and keep her company. They help give her a new life force and she gets to pass on important life lessons to someone. Miss Franny Block comes out of her sheltered slump and opens up the stories and memories kept bottled up inside her when Opal and Winn-Dixie become regular’s t her library. From their friendship she feels comfort and safety. Otis the silent, shy pet shop manager slowly gets over his social anxiety and opens up to Opal and then eventually more people through his friendship with her. Friendship is shown to be source of healing and happiness in this book, a refreshing and renewing gift.
Miss Franny Block relays the tale of her Great Grandfather Littmus W Block who returned from war to find himself an orphan. Overcome by grief from his loss and the aftereffects of war, he decides to bring some sweetness into the world and creates 'Littmus Lozenges'. These candies taste of sweetness and Littmus' sorrow to. When the characters of the story eat it, they are overcome by this inexplicable feeling of sadness, which Opal's father calls melancholy. He introduces the concept of melancholy to his daughter. Every character has something which brings them melancholy, Otis' dark past and isolation, Amanda's brother's death, Gloria's ghosts of alcoholism, the Preacher's beloved wife who abandoned him and so on. Everyone has something to lament and bring them sorrow, yet they overcome it with help from each other. No one's problems are solved or past's erased, the melancholy does not disappear, but they help each other cope with it and focus on happiness.
Opal and Winn-Dixie form an instant strong connection because they both now what it is like to be abandoned, they help each other fill the void of loneliness. Throughout the story, the two of them help each other heal and reach out to other people affected by loneliness. The Preacher feels abandoned by his wife, hence, buries himself into work. Otis retreats into isolation after he is arrested. Amanda is so overcome by grief that she rejects the rest of the world. All the characters are affected by loneliness in some way or the other, and require each other's assistance to step out of their isolation and accept human companionship. Everyone needs a friend.
This story is full of people who aren't what they seem, there is more than meets the eye in everyone case. When Opal learns that her shy, quiet boss Otis is an ex-convict, she immediately thinks that should should be afraid of him. Gloria Dump teaches her that "you can't always judge people by the things they done. You got to judge them by what they are doing now". Opal learns that she has to judge Otis based on the man he is now, who is a caring, music loving man. In the case of Amanda Wilkinson, Opal does not initially like her. She seems to a typical stuck up girl who thinks of herself highly. Opal then learns that Amanda's harsh mannerisms are a reflection of her pain and sadness after a tragedy took her little brother away. Opals realizes that she had misjudged Amanda and makes an effort to befriend her. The Dewberry brothers tease and annoy Opal to the extent that she lashes out at them and calls them names. She sees no redeeming qualities in them, just perceives them as pesky boys. However, she later understands that they meant no harm and simply sought companionship. The story shows forgiveness and compassion through the eyes of a young girl who learns about complex characters of people and how to look beyond what’s on the surface to discover the true nature of an individual.
There are many suffering souls in this novel, all who overcome their problems with the help of love and compassion. Winn-Dixie is a symbol of love who gives it freely to everyone he meets. With all the people Opal and Winn-Dixie befriend, everyone needs love and kindness in their lives to move on from their past or open up. Winn-Dixie's pure love helps everyone he encounters to warm up and heal. He teaches Opal how to love unconditionally and she too has a big open heart and is eager to help people. Both of them have an innocence and youth which makes them quick to spread compassion. Ironically, both the main characters who are so open with love do not receive much of it in the start. Winn-Dixie was an abandoned dog who had no one till Opal took him in, and Opal herself had been left by her mother and had a reclusive father. Yet they both had an abundance of love which they give to each other and everyone they befriend. Love is what hurts Opal's father in the first place, he was in love with his wife and remained deeply in love and pining for her even after he left. Even though it is what brought him down, his daughter's love and adoration for him helps him rebuild himself. Miss Fanny opens up her heart and mind after years of isolation due to the love and comfort Opal and Winn-Dixie bring. Amanda lost someone she loved dearly and needed compassion to help her recover from the pain. Otis and Gloria Dump also need companions like Opal and Winn-Dixie who accept them despite troubled pasts.
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In the novel's opening, we see a little girl who loves her father from a distance, she describes him as something of a turtle, "hiding all the time inside his shell" (p. 67). By the end of the novel, the two have forged a closer relationship, as...