Secret life of bees
In 1964, Lily Owens is fourteen years old. She has no mother, a father whom she despises, and no friends to turn to when she needs a shoulder to cry on. Not only does Lily have to deal with feelings of loneliness and betrayal caused by her parents, but in a time troubled by negativity towards the Civil Rights Act, she is also faced with situations that force her to grow up very fast. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a page turning novel about Lily’s journey to find answers to her past. There are themes and symbolisms throughout the book. Racism, forgiveness/coping, and bees are big ones for many characters throughout the novel.
The summer of 1964 in South Carolina comes at the peak for race relationships in American history, a summer when much of white Americans showed no respect towards the blacks. The nature of racism is discussed throughout Lily’s story. It is important to understand she grew up in the South, where races were separated by both law and attitudes. Lily does not attempt to reconcile her love for Rosaleen with her understanding that blacks are inferior to whites. “Rosaleen pulled back the towel; I saw an inch-long gash across a puffy place high over her eyebrow. ” (Kidd).
Is one of the first times she started to see racism, but not to the fullest understanding. When Rosaleen’s life is threatened by a system that Lily doesn’t understand, she knows only that she must save Rosaleen’s life, even if it means leaving home and breaking the law. Anne-Janine Morey from Christian Century says in her criticism piece, “Imperfectly integrated with her spiritual journey is Lily’s account of racism, as Rosaleen prepares again to register to vote, and a neighbor is arrested on trumped-up assault charges during an altercation with local racists. ” (Morey).
Lily seemed to notice it but not to full view until that encounter. Lily’s attitude begins to change when she meets the Boatright sisters (Strong black women with a profession, an education, and a religious community that is strong and positive). When June reacts to Lily being white with little respect, it occurs to Lily that racism can work both ways. Lily begins to understand that character is more important than skin color, after her own encounter with racism. At the Boatright’s house is where Lily meets Zach, Lily gets more of an understanding of society’s view of race through her relationship she develops with Zach.
Before Lily met Zach she could never imagine how she could find a black man attractive. Despite Zach’s and Lily’s love, their society will not accept them as a couple. All around her, Lily receives strong messages about racism. The policeman who comes to Boatright’s house and the receptionist at the lawyer’s office both disapprove of her living there. On the television every night, Lily sees stories of people beaten and killed because of their race. Lily ends up growing into a person who understands the terrible nature of racism.
Lily chooses to stay at the Boatright’s house, realizing that it is a community she loves and that it does not matter that her family member are black and she is white. Throughout the story, all of the characters are forced to cope with difficulty. They cope with grief, discrimination, abuse, and physical pain. They all use different methods to cope and none of the characters take the same approach. Boppy a resident scholar says, “Maternal loss and betrayal, guilt and forgiveness entwine in a story that leads Lily to the single thing her heart longs for most” .
August tells Lily about Deborah, Lily becomes irate about her mother’s abandonment. Lily can’t understand the concept of a nervous breakdown. All she hears is that her mother left her to come to August’s house. Lily is not ready to let her mom off the hood, forgiving her for seeking her own health first and leaving Lily with T. Ray (Lily’s father). Lily then returns to the honey house where she is staying and throws jars of honey against the wall, making a huge mess but releasing her anger. She does not want to let go of the romantic pictures she has created of her mother.
Lily is indecisive between being angry at her mother for leaving on the one hand, and better understanding her mother’s motives on the other. Lily ponders the idea of why it is so difficult for people to forgive. Lily must forgive herself too. Lily’s first reaction, when August tells her Deborah married T. Ray because she was pregnant with Lily, is that it was all her fault that Deborah was sadden with such a terrible husband. When Lily tells August about how she happened to come to the Boatright’s house, she explains with tears and sorrow that she hates herself and is a worthless person who isn’t worthy of love.
Before Lily can become whole and love herself, Lily must forgive herself for killing her mother, and she must understand that this was an accident that she can’t go back and fix. Lily has to go on, realizing she is a human being worthy of love. Anita Shreve says it perfect in a criticism with Publishers weekly, “It’s deeply satisfying when August teaches Lily to find the mother in herself-a soothing lesson that should charm female readers of all ages” (Shreve). There are several lessons August teaches Lily including with the bees. Throughout the story there are bees and they all have a meaning or symbolize something.
The quotes at the beginning of each chapter concern bees. The bees in Lily’s room reach out to her and show her she must leave. The bees at the Boatright’s house are instrumental in teaching about community, life, and death. The bees in Lily’s room show who she is and what she must do. A bee she captures in a jar actually flies away, Lily realizes she too, must leave save Rosaleen, and get away from her abusive father. The label on a honey jar leads her to the Boatright’s house, almost as if the bees are leading her to clues about her mother.
At the Boatright’s house, the bees and their hives are both a way of life and a means of nourishment for the family. August uses the bees and their hives to illustrate to Lily how societies operate, explaining that they are a powerful symbol of women as leaders of the village. August uses the beehives to teach Lily that life is a cycle, one in which death and rebirth are an important part. Some of the lessons Lily learns are just good practices of life in general. Like Charles Brower says, “Taking Lily on as a sort of apprentice, she explains to her the inner workings of the hive, “the secret life we don’t know anything about” (Brower).
August uses the beehives to teach Lily that life is a cycle, one in which death and rebirth are an important part. Draping the beehives, tending to their needs, and getting another queen for a queen less hive are all part of taking care of nature, the needs of the bees, and the circle of life. The honey from August’s hives and the chains that represent a resistance to slavery are important to them and to the novel as a whole. The bees, August explains, represent death and rebirth. Sue Monk Kidd has written a beautiful novel about the overwhelmed power of love.
This is the tale of a young girl’s way to healing, and of finding, at the end, not only wholeness, but the indefeasible sacredness of living in this world. This novel shows simple feelings and acts that we usually do not notice in the flow of time. This story relates to the world today because in both time eras, child abuse was an issue. The world really hasn’t changed much. The media today is the reason we think it has gotten worse. The media focuses on it, grabs every story, and proclaims it to all of the country. Back then, there was child abuse it’s just it wasn’t as shared and on the news as much.
The world is still the same world it was 50 years ago, except now everyone knows everything that goes on all the time. Kelly Hamren says it great in the Too Much Honey-A review of the Secret Life of Bees, “Literature that forces us to confront problems from a new angle, or to face a new and troubling side of a familiar question, keeps us from settling into a complacent easiness concerning our perspective on problems which are often much more difficult than we make them out to be” (Hamren). These are the types of books that make you think and expand the mind. Too many today are relying on movies instead of reading a good book.