Florida in the summertime is hot, hot, hot. Whoo-eee! So it's no surprise that most of the novel takes place outside. People sit outside to eat peanut butter sandwiches, ride bikes, and even bring their own chairs to church, so it feels like "watching a parade or sitting at a barbecue" (5.5).
In addition to the heat, it's stormy, with thunder "so loud that it shook the whole trailer" (11.8). Winn-Dixie is terrified of storms, and his fear defines and heals Opal and the preacher's relationship. It's the power of nature, baby.
Here are some more lessons the setting teaches us:
Take a looksee here.
• Opal and her father live in a trailer.
• The Open Arms Baptist Church has a wicked long name, but actually is in a former little grocery store.
• The pet store is no chain—it's Gertrude's Pets, a small-time shop.
• Even the Herman W. Block library is actually a little cottage full of Miss Franny's books.
What does it all mean?
No thing is big in this book. This isn't a fancy town full of high-end boutiques, or even a middle-class suburb with big box stores. (Big box stores are stores that look like, you guess it: big boxes. Think Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, that sort of thing.)
Because the story is about people.
• Living in a trailer forces Opal and the preacher to interact every day. No retreating to the other side of the house or the upstairs when you're in a bad mood. It also forces Opal to spend most of her days outside, where she meets other people.
• The church atmosphere makes it easy for friendly Winn-Dixie to fit in, because the people aren't focused on stained glass and being all proper.
• The small-time pet store makes it possible for shy Otis to come out of his shell—heck, he's the only employee, and there aren't any corporate regulations against letting 10-year-olds work off their debts.
• The cozy little library is a perfect place to read books and hear stories from a librarian sitting next to a fan.
Without a focus on things, the setting highlights the purity of people's hearts.
Yeah, it's the Dump yard. Get it? It's also "the most overgrown jungle of a yard that I had ever seen" (9.6).
But Opal finds peace and understanding here. Why?
• Gloria Dump is there, and she listens.
• Gloria's Mistake Tree rattles in the back. It teaches Opal life lessons (Sound deep? Read all about it in the "Symbols" section).
• Opal plants her "wait-and-see" tree there (more dirt—LOL—on that in, yep, "Symbols").
Thanks to Opal, they transform the "overgrown jungle" into "a fairyland" that "looked so pretty […] it made [Opal's] heart feel funny, all swollen and full" (9.6; 21.7, 9). "Even somebody with bad eyes can tell it looks good," says Gloria.
Sounds like Opal's not the only one affected by the yard.
Ain't that the truth! That's where the party takes place. Everyone comes, remember? Even though the storm runs everyone inside, it can't tear them apart—in fact, it just brings them all closer together.
Let's sum it all up.
• Things aren't always what they seem.
• Love transforms people (and yards).
• When people stick together, they find sweetness in the storms of life.