So, What’s the Deal With Race and Because of Winn-Dixie?

I'm wading in.

OK: I have long heard about Because of Winn-Dixie. First, the review came across my line of sight somehow, and boy oh boy did the reviewer love it. And it struck me. Then, it was assigned to Diana for something or other entering middle school. And boy oh boy did she hate it. Then my niece started talking about it—and of course she loved it. So: strong feelings were engendered. This seems like a good thing.

Then for a long time, it was in the bathroom near my office at home. So I read the beginning. And then—it vanished.

This was, of course, the most exciting part, and I got to imagine that there was a plot for a while, until I forgot about it. All in due time, it reappeared, and sitting around after dinner the other night, I read it.

Well.

First of all: It seems way too young for middle school readers. I mean, as a group. I am sure many a middle school (or high school. or grown-up like me) has read it with great pleasure, but to assign it to a group of 6th graders? This seems to me misguided.

Second: race. Now, I am coming at this as a white, northeastern, Jewish type of person. This is, emphatically, a Southern book. But I want to try to grapple with the issues, because that's what life is for. So there's Gloria Dump (great name). And she is described thus, "She was old with crinkly brown skin." OK, she is black. Sounds good.

They become friends, but Gloria Dump (wow, it's such a great name) is blind, and so our hero gets the idea to read to her. And what does she read to her? Well, she goes to the library, where another nice older lady (there are a lot of them in children's books, aren't there?) recommends Gone With the Wind.

When I saw that, I thought: Hmmm. This will be…a thing. To read Gone With the Wind to an old black lady is something to be remarked upon, isn't it? Our hero and the (white)(I'm guessing)(because when race isn't mentioned, the person is white, generally) talked about the Civil War, and slavery. And…that was it. They mentioned it, and the story moved on. Acknowledgement of war's being hell.

And then she's reading GWTW to Gloria Dump (!). And Scarlett is getting ready for the barbecue. At the plantation. With the help of the slaves, as I know from reading it myself. And…they get the idea of having their own barbecue!

And that's it: that's all we hear about it. Gloria Dump (!) likes it, says after the first chapter that she's been looking forward to the second chapter all day, and then…that's it.

And I think to myself: Is it just me, or is having a kid read that book out loud to an older black lady a thing? I mean, you don't need to tackle Slavery and Life and War and Love in every book. But what was weird to me was that it felt like she brought it up, she went there, as they say, and then she just let it go.

Am I crazy? Maybe other people just think of Gone with the Wind as…being something in which you don't need to address the whole slavery thing? Someone set me straight, if possible, in the comments.

2 thoughts on “So, What’s the Deal With Race and Because of Winn-Dixie?

  1. People raved about the book, and my daughter was given a copy as a gift. She cracked it once- said “oh, NO!”, then it was given away after a time. I would think that reading GWTW would be a thing- somehow it seems an inappropriate choice and that it would come up some place in the story. Huh.

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  2. Well, I have only read Despereaux and Tiger Rising, and I hate Kate Di Camillo! Her books are always filled with things that look like they must symbolize something, but when you look at it carefully it just doesn’t. Also they always seem like they do depressing stuff in a fake way that is intended to win awards. But that is just me. Also I hate southern novels. But I cannot believe that she put in Gone with the Wind like that. Sounds like a clueless thing to do.

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