Because of Winn-Dixie

Because of Winn-Dixie Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11-14


The night Opal meets Gloria Dump, there is a thunderstorm. Winn-Dixie is so afraid of the thunder and lightning that he wakes up Opal by whining and beating his head against her bedroom door. When she opens the door, he runs into the preacher’s room and hops on his bed. Almost immediately after, he is off the preacher’s bed and again running through the trailer. As the preacher stands in his doorway, confused, Winn-Dixie, propelled by another crack of lightning, barrels into him and topples him over. As the storm rages on, Opal realizes that she will not be able to help Winn-Dixie with his fear of storms, so she and the preacher just sit and watch “him run back and forth, all terrorized and panting” (76).

Winn-Dixie and Opal arrive at Gertrude’s Pet Store early on her first day of work. Although the "closed" sign is in place, the door is unlocked, so Opal and Winn-Dixie enter. They find Otis standing in the middle of a circle of uncaged animals. The animals are still, transfixed by Otis’s lovely guitar playing. When Gertrude catches sight of Winn-Dixie, she calls out “dog” and lands on his head, which causes Otis to stop playing and break the spell. All of the animals scatter and Otis and Opal frantically attempt to gather them and get them in their cages. It is only when Otis begins playing again that they calm down: “Winn-Dixie was lying on the floor, blinking his eyes and smiling to himself and sneezing every now and then, and the mice and gerbils and the rabbits and the lizard and the snakes that we hadn’t caught yet got quiet and sat still, and I picked them up one by one and put them back in their cages” (82).

When all the animals have been caged, Opal sees that Otis won't look up from his boots. He attempts to justify his behavior to Opal, who asks if they escaped from their cages. Otis tells her that he feels “sorry for them being locked up all the time,” as he knows what it is like to be locked up (82). He then confides in Opal that he has spent time in jail. She asks about it but he changes the subject and tells her to start working. Opal sweeps and dusts the whole pet store, and when she is done, Otis thanks her. She leaves the pet store “thinking about how the preacher probably wouldn’t like it very much that I was working for a criminal” (84). She sees Sweetie Pie Thomas outside, who asks if Otis is magic for being able to keep all the animals still with his guitar. Opal agrees that he is kind of magic, and Sweetie Pie runs home to tell her mother about what she has seen.

Opal falls into a routine. She begins her days at Gertrude’s Pets in time for Otis’ morning concert. Sometimes Sweetie Pie will join and she will sit on the floor with her arms wrapped around Winn-Dixie. When Sweetie Pie leaves, Opal will clean and sweep and arrange Otis’ shelves, after which Otis will note down her time in a notebook. After she leaves the pet store, Opal will head towards the library, where she and Winn-Dixie will listen to Miss Franny Block tell a story. Next, they will head to Gloria's backyard.

On the way to Gloria's, the Dewberry brothers will often follow Opal, hollering “There goes the preacher’s daughter, visiting the witch” (89). It frustrates Opal that no matter how many times she corrects them, they still believe that Gloria is a witch. One day, she gets into a fight with them when they tell her their mother thinks that she should spend more time with kids her age. The Dewberry brothers tell Opal that Otis has an intellectual disability, and Opal calls Stevie a bald-headed baby. When she makes it inside to see Gloria, the older woman suggests that they are trying to become her friends in a roundabout way, but Opal states that she doesn’t want to be friends with the two boys.

Every time Opal visits Gloria, she tells her a new story. She decides to confide in Gloria what she has learned about Otis, and she asks whether she should be afraid of the man. Gloria leads Opal to the back of her yard, where they find a large tree covered with bottles. Gloria tells Opal the bottles are to keep all the ghosts “of all the things I done wrong,” away (95). Opal is surprised to learn that Gloria has done so many wrong things, as Gloria is the nicest person that Opal knows. Gloria tells Opal that she can’t judge people for what they have done, but should judge them for what they are currently doing. According to Gloria, this applies to both Otis and the Dewberry brothers.


When Opal learns of Winn-Dixie's pathological fear of thunderstorms, she must also learn that there are certain things that she can't help Winn-Dixie with. Despite Opal's best efforts, she is unable to calm a terrified Winn-Dixie. During a thunderstorm, he runs through the trailer as though he is being chased. He shakes and trembles so hard that it scares Opal. She is upset by the fact that the usual things that comfort Winn-Dixie don't seem to work. The preacher teaches Opal that a pathological fear is "a fear that goes way beyond normal fears," one that "you can't be talked out of or reasoned out of" (75). Even though she can't help him through his fear, Opal is determined to stay awake and offer Winn-Dixie company while he runs around, terrified. When the storm ends, Winn-Dixie is able to be cared for in the same way again. The preacher tells Opal that he will have to be watched throughout the storms that occur often in Floridan summers, and that they will have to work to keep Winn-Dixie safe through his fear.

Opal learns more about Otis' character in this section. Not only does Opal learn about Otis' intellectual disability through the Dewberry brothers, but she learns how to read the man in order to understand him better. She notices that he won't look at her in the eye when is feeling shy or ashamed of something. When Otis plays music for the animals, his eyes are closed and he is smiling. He is more relaxed then than at any other moment. Opal also learns about Otis' criminal history. At first, she wonders if she should be afraid of Otis. She considers that Otis has not once acted as a criminal in the time that she knew him. Gloria helps Opal understand that what matters is that Otis is a good person in the present. Because of this conversation, Opal decides to continue to work for Otis without trying to find out why he was arrested in the first place.

Opal's mother lives on through Opal's constant thoughts about her. As she watches Sweetie Pie run home to tell her mother about what she has seen, Opal thinks that she would also like to tell her mother this. She thinks that she is collecting stories to share with her mother when they are finally reunited. She has a feeling that the stories of what she has already done that summer would amuse her mother and make her laugh in the way the preacher described.

When the Dewberry brothers tell her that their mother said she should spend more time with kids her age, Opal responds that she doesn't care, that she isn't her mother, and that she can't tell Opal what to do. What is interesting here is not only Opal's aggressive response to the motherly advice, born from her own longing for a mother of her own. Also of note is the fact that Opal explicitly doesn't tell the preacher about Otis' intellectual disability or criminal past. She thinks that he might disapprove, so she withholds the information from him. This emphasizes the sheer independence Opal has. She is able to live an entire life that her father doesn't control. Without a mother or father to guide her behavior, Opal has to trust her own conscience and Winn-Dixie to keep her out of trouble.

Another way that Opal relates to her mother in this section is through Gloria's alcoholism. When Gloria opens up to Opal about her past, she tells Opal that alcohol made her do many bad things that she now regretted. In response to this past, Gloria planted a mistake tree, where she hung bottles to represent every mistake that she made because of alcohol. The tree helps Gloria face her mistakes and let them go. This interaction causes Opal to think about her mother. She wonders about what regrets her mother has, wherever she is, and if the woman thought about Opal as much as Opal thought about her.