Sunday, May 26, 2013

Winn Dixie

I read an interview with Kate DiCamillo once.  What was interesting about this interview is that it was conducted by a student reporter at the premiere of the movie of this book.  The student asked her if she liked to write while listening to music or if she preferred the quiet.  Her answer was music, always.  She then told the student that she not only listened to music, she spent some time figuring out which song was the perfect song for what she was working on, and then, once she had the song figured out, she listened to it over and over and over again while writing the book. 

I found that to be amazing.  I cannot write with music in the background.  It is very distracting to me.  Well, I can write, but I tend to recite what I’m writing out loud as I write it, in order to drown out the distraction of the music.  Therefore, why bother, right?  More than the music in the background, though, was the idea that the music would repeat itself on an endless track over and over and over again. I think I’d go insane, especially if the book took a while to write!  Of course, I had to know what song she listened to while writing Because of Winn-Dixie.  Apparently, so did the reporter because he asked and she answered – Enlightenment by Van Morrison.

When I was getting ready to read this book again, I remembered that interview and looked up the lyrics to Enlightenment.  I then tried to keep those lyrics in mind while reading.  (I was unable to force myself to listen to the song while reading because it about made me insane after only two repeats!) 

In any case, when I read Opal’s description of her daddy, the preacher – “Sometimes he reminded me of a turtle hiding inside its shell, in there thinking about things and not ever sticking his head out into the world.” (p. 16) – I understood why DiCamillo chose Enlightenment for this book.  The lyrics of Enlightenment seemed to have been tailor made for several of the characters in Because of Winn-Dixie.  The following lyrics seemed particularly appropriate: “Enlightenment, don’t know what it is.  It says it’s non attachment, non attachment, non attachment.  I’m in the here and now, and I’m meditating and still I’m suffering, but that’s my problem.  Enlightenment, don’t know what it is.  Wake up!”  I had to wonder if DiCamillo always pictured the preacher or a different character each time these words came over the speakers. 

DiCamillo’s characters were so vivid, as told through Opal’s eyes.  The preacher, in particular, as seen by Opal, is in desperate need of waking of, of re-connecting with the outer world, of connecting with his daughter.  He is detached, or non-attached, as the song proclaims.  The preacher is not the only one, though.  I think these lyrics could be applied to Otis’ character as well.  Otis is so afraid of the outer world that he only plays his guitar to the animals.  He too is non-attached and in need of both enlightenment and to wake up. 

As we travel through Opal’s world, we meet many new people who share these qualities, people she befriends over time; even those she never imagines as friends become friends in the end.  Opal believes that Winn-Dixie is the catalyst for everything.  In some ways, this is true.  However, I see Opal as the center of this universe, as the child who found the courage, in many ways because of Winn-Dixie, to reach out to those around her.  Winn-Dixie gives her the courage, but Opal is the one who must be brave and ask her father questions about her mother.  Opal is the one who must find the courage to reach out the hand of friendship to Amanda, Stevie and Dunlap. 

Ultimately, this book is about friendship and loss.  It is a treatise on not being detached, on reaching out to others, on risking your heart to feel again, even after terrible loss.  For Opal, it is about finding the courage to reach out to her father.  For the preacher, it is about finding the courage to connect with his daughter and face the memories of what he has lost.  For Otis, it is about risking everything to step into the outer world, to play his guitar for humans again.  The list goes on and on.  These characters feel real because they grapple with real problems.  Their problems are not solved in a day, but they become easier to bear as each individual discovers enlightenment through friendship.  Ultimately, we are given a very satisfying ending, with all of the characters gathered in one location, celebrating friendship and companionship and love.

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