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Hold on to your bell-bottoms and bowl-cuts, because we're going on a Beatles ride for this one. While India Opal Buloni (who goes by Opal, after her grandmother) is really too young to appreciate the lyrics we will be analyzing her with, they definitely play the tune of her Winn-Dixie summer. And let's face it. Everyone needs a bit of a Beatles lesson—even you! So make sure to link around and find out more about the songs as you read.
Ten-year-old Opal needs love. Period. As she explains it, her heart "[feels] empty" (26.2). She's got three problems: (1) Her father "is a good preacher and a nice man," but he forgets to be a "daddy" because he's so busy preaching (2.1).
(2), Also, her mother up and left the preacher and Opal alone when Opal was too young to remember. So she desperately "[wants] to know more about her" (3.8). Too bad. The preacher's lips are sealed on that subject.
(3) As if poor lonely Opal needs a third reason, she left all her friends behind when she and the preacher moved to this town.
Opal recognizes a kindred spirit in the ragtag Winn-Dixie. They're alike, not because Winn-Dixie insists on going to church, topples grocery store managers and scares librarians, but because he also wants to be loved.
Both Opal and Winn-Dixie have hearts of gold and no one to shower with their love dust. That's why they adore each other at first smile (and sneeze, in Winn-Dixie's case). That's why they're inseparable. That's why they bring out the best in each other.
In the title track of this crazy-famous album with the words, the Beatles sang, "you're such a lovely audience we'd like to take you home with us… we'd love to take you home" Well, guess what? That's basically just what Opal says to everyone she meets. Her child-like innocence and pure honesty act like magnets to those around her, particularly those with lonely hearts like her own. And like opposite magnetic forces, each person Opal helps helps her in return.
Miss Franny Block teaches Opal about her great-grandfather, Littmus W. Block, and his famous Littmus Lozenges. Free candy? We're there! Okay, but really, the candy teaches about surviving sorrow and the blending of sweetness and sadness in life. And Miss Franny sure can't resist a smiling dog and a little girl who will actually listen to her stories.
Shy and quiet Otis teaches Opal that going to jail doesn't make someone a criminal. And this trusting child who listens to his music lures Otis out of his loneliness.
And Opal can't help but be attracted to Gloria Dump, who can't see worth a darn, but she "can see [Opal] with her heart" (9.39). She teaches Opal to "wait-and-see" about people, plants, and her personal demons. On the other hand, Gloria finally finds solace and friendship in a child who cares enough to visit her—and not only to see her tree grow—she comes "because [she] wants to see her," simple as that (10.17).
Opal's desire to love and be loved glues this Lonely Hearts Club together. As each of her friends heals her heart and teaches her life lessons, Opal's healing effect on each of their hearts also increases. And from there, her increased compassion finds her more friends and more love—like a never ending Love-Go-Round. Or maybe just a magic penny.
Human hearts are cool that way.
Thanks be to John Lennon for such inspired words. This phrase might as well be the mantra (that's a fancy word for a motto—what's a motto? What's a motto with you?) for Opal's greatest conflict: her need for her mother.
No matter how much love she shares and gives her friends, they can't take the place of her mother. How can we tell? Check this out.
After the preacher tells her ten things about her mother:
I went right back to my room and wrote down all ten things that the preacher had told me. I wrote them down just the way he said them to me so that I wouldn't forget them, and then I read them out loud to Winn-Dixie until I had them memorized. I wanted to know those ten things inside and out. That way, if my mama ever came back, I could recognize her, and I would be able to grab her and hold on to her tight and not let her get away from me again. (4.22)
She can't "let it be."
She aches to tell her mother stories, hopes she'll return someday, and even accuses her father of giving up on her, trying to make it his fault she left.
But that's the thing. It wasn't his fault, and it sure wasn't his choice.
Nothing the preacher could do could bring her back. Clinging to that hope only made him emptier and lonelier, and it was doing the same thing to Opal.
Out in the thunderstorm, drenched with rain, both father and daughter finally understand that "letting it be" doesn't mean they are giving up. It means that they're allowing themselves to love again. Gloria Dump tells Opal "you can't hold on to anything…. You can only love what you've got while you've got it" (24.35). This nugget of wisdom gives Opal strength to let go of the emptiness outside her control. That's when she lets her heart fill with love for what she already has right smack dab in front of her.
So there you have it. Sometimes, you have to let go in order to love.