The Secret Life of Bees
Theme of Self Discovery in the Novels The Namesake and The Secret Life Of Bees
Well known novels use contrasting strategies to portray a story to the reader. In the novels The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, several strategies are used to express the idea of self discovery.
In The Namesake, the Ganguli family moves from Calcutta to the United States. Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli struggle finding themselves in a new country with new traditions, people, and lifestyles. In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily is a fourteen year old girl living in South Carolina with her abusive father. She and her stand-in mother, Rosaleen run away from the dangerous conditions of their hometown to find the where Lily belongs. Sue Monk Kidd and Jhumpa Lahiri use various strategies to portray the story differently to express the theme of self identification within the novels, with their contrasting uses of detail, importance of setting, and the number of perspectives.Detail is a literary device often used by authors to aid the reader in imagining the world of the book. Detail is used thoroughly within The Secret Life of Bees and The Namesake, but in different ways. The Secret Life of Bees uses detail to show the real-world depiction of the world where Lily and the other characters coexist. One example of detail being used by Kidd is when Lily first arrives at the Boatwright house, she meets June Boatwright at the door and the reader can sense Junes personality through the details provided by Lily.
Lily presents the reader with details on the June Boatwright outward appearances and mannerisms, “When the door opened, it was not the woman in white but another one wearing red, her hair cut so short it resembled a little gray, curlicue swim cap pulled tight over her scalp. Her face started at us, suspicious and stern. I noticed she carried a musical bow tucked underneath her arm like a riding whip. It crossed my mind that she might use it on us” (Kidd 68). This clever use of detail used by Sue Monk Kidd sets up the reader with a general understanding of the Boatwright sisters. Detail allows the author to build upon the characters later in the novel. Opposite from Sue Monk Kidd, Jhumpa Lahiri uses detail in The Namesake to unveil the emotions of the various characters. Since the characters’ emotions are not handed to the reader often, the detail in the novel makes the reader infer the underlying feelings of the character.
At one point in the novel, Ashoke ends up in the hospital after a painful stomach ache. Ashima is at her house writing Christmas cards to her family members. However, she does not call her children to alert them that their father is hospitalized. Ashima reasons with herself, “She wonders if she ought to call Gogol and Sonia, to tell them that their father is in the hospital. But quickly she reminds herself that he is not technically in the hospital, that if this were any other day but Sunday he’d be at a doctor’s office having a ordinary checkup. He had not spoken to her normally, sounding a bit tired, perhaps, but not in great pain” (Lahiri 165). This passage illustrates Ashima’s denial that something may be wrong with her husband. Jhumpa Lahiri uses these detail to give the reader a sense of unrest with Ashmia’s behavior and thoughts, helping them understand her willingness to push away dark thoughts. Throughout The Namesake, detail is used to unveil the emotions and desire of the characters, unlike The Secret Life of Bees, where the author uses detail to add realism and add to the description of the setting. Within both of these novels, detail is used in contrasting fashions to advance the theme of finding identity.
Setting is often used to preface the initial conflicts within a novel. The Secret Life of Bees is placed in South Carolina, which has a highly racist population. In this novel, Sue Monk Kidd uses setting to initiate Lily and Rosaleen’s fleeing. The author’s use of setting is vital to the plot and conflict. The setting is used directly when a group of white men harass Rosaleen and she fought back. Lily saw that, “…Rosaleen lay sprawled on the ground, pinned, twisting her fingers around clumps of grass. Blood ran from a cut beneath her eye. It curved under her chin the way tears do. When the policemen got there, he said we had to get into the back of his car. ‘You’re under arrest,’ he told Rosaleen. ‘Assault, theft, and disturbing the peace’” (Kidd 33). This excerpt depicts the importance of setting in the novel. If the setting was not in a highly racist community, Rosaleen most likely would not be arrested, therefore stumping the plot. Sue Monk Kidd uses setting as the instigator for her story.
On the other hand, in The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri did not depend on the setting for advancement in plot. Although the Ganguli family did move from Calcutta, which was a important part of the plot, it was not the true setting of the novel. Ashima and Ashoke moved from Calcutta, India to Massachusetts, America. No conflict or plot was initiated by the location of the novel, “At dawn a taxi is called to ferry them through deserted Cambridge streets, up Massachusetts Avenue and past Harvard Yard, to Mount Auburn Hospital” (Lahiri 2). If it had been placed on the opposite coast of America, nothing would have changed. Even though they both portray the theme of self identity, the readers can see the different uses of setting between Sue Monk Kidd, which initiated the plot, and Jhumpa Lahiri, which did not.
The usage of perspective is very important because it drives the story in a direction. Perspective can also change the readers outlook on the novel entirely. If the book is in a different point of view or multiple perspectives, then the readers have many or different viewpoints on the plot. Authors usually use either one point of view or multiple to advance the story in the way they sees fit. Perspective is used in varying ways in The Secret Life of Bees and The Namesake. The Secret Life of Bees has only one perspective, because the story only focuses on Lily’s conflicts. The perspective does not deviate to any other character in the novel. It is used to show Lily’s journey in finding herself. This is vital to the story because it allows the reader to be fully immersed in Lily’s life and discoveries without other perspectives getting in the way. At the end of the novel the readers are able to see her resolution, “I guess I have forgiven us both, although sometimes in the night my dreams will take us back to sadness, and I have to wake up and forgive us again” (Kidd 301).
Within this passage the reader witnesses Lily’s resolution on her mother’s past actions. If The Secret Life Of Bees had been written in, T-Ray’s, Lily’s father’s point of view, then the reader could possible have a different opinion on characters such as Lily or Rosaleen. On the opposite spectrum, The Namesake employs multiple perspectives. Within the novel, the reader is able to see through Ashoke, Ashima, Gogol and Gogol’s wife, Moushumi’s point of view. This helps the reader develop a broader view of the characters as individuals. Towards the end of the novel, Gogol learns of Moushumi’s affair. Through Gogol’s perspective, you are able to see his negative reaction to her betrayal. “‘Who’s Dimitri?’ he’d asked. And then: ‘Are you having a affair?’ The question had sprung out of him, something he had not consciously put together in his mind until that moment.He felt the chill of her secrecy, numbing him, like poison spreading quickly through his veins” (Lahiri 282). This citation showcases Gogol’s sadness after hearing of her affair.
However, this view is only one sided, with no input from the opposing side. Whether or not Moushumi’s reasons are justified, she did have purpose to her actions. Moushumi often infers that she feels restless in her marriage with Gogol and starts to lash out at Gogol while having a affair with another man. She admits that while her marriage is on shaky ground, “This is what upsets her the most to admit: the affair causes her to feel strangely at peace, the complication of it calming her, structuring her day” (Lahiri 266). When the reader is given her point of view, right or wrong, they are able to understand both characters’ frame of mind regarding the situation. These excerpts represent how two different perspectives can give the readers a well rounded view on different events in The Namesake that the reader would not get while reading The Secret Life Of Bees, while restarting the theme of self discovery.
The contrasting use of detail, setting and perspective by Kidd and Lahiri, show the differences in the usage of literary devices in both novels. In The Secret Life of Bees detail is used to expand on the setting and description of characters in the novel. As well Kidd used setting to be the catalyst of the novel and used perspective to focus on one character’s journey throughout the story. In The Namesake, detail is used to help the reader infer the hidden emotions of the characters. Setting is used as only a mere place for the plot to unfold and perspective is used to allow the reader to view the plot of the novel from many angles, not being restricted to one point of view. Many of the greatest novel use varying styles and methods to tell a story.
Characteristics Of The Main Protagonist in The Secret Life Of Bees By Sue Monk Kidd
Lily is the main character, protagonist, and narrator of her story. She is a fourteen year old white teenager growing up in Sylvan, South Carolina. When Lily first appears, she is beaten down, and punished by her father. At age four, Lily killed her mother while witnessing an argument between her parents.
Lilly “personal” character qualities were discovered after she leaves home and goes on the run with her nanny, Rosaleen. Through her interactions with other people, Lily gains strength in her independence, understanding of prejudice, and loving connections in her life. Her sense of humor helps her survive, her ability to forgive, and her growth that takes her far beyond her father’s lack of humanity. Lily has always been beaten down and abused by her father, but witnessing Rosaleen’s being courageous made Lily felt courage, too. Her father physically beats her and punishes her barbaric at a very young age, and Lily felt like she has no choice but to take it. But after she witnesses the way Rosaleen faced the beatings and imprisonment. Lily was then “inspired” and that was what brought up the “independence” in her. She learns to lie convincingly and plans their escape to Tilburon. Defying her father and leaving home is something she’d never considered. She uses her intelligence, a brain that her father thought was a waste to educate, her father always believed that it was a waste for girls to read, but lily used that same brain to create a false past, learn a new set of skills, and reflect on the people and events she sees around her. In the end, she even finds the courage to stand up to her father once and for all.
Racism is a big issue in South Carolina, when Lily was informed that Rosaleen will probably die due to the racism. Lily took no time to even question saving Rosaleen. Which shows how much caring Lily can be, but not only that it also shows how much she cares for Rosaleen. Lily always find a way to get herself throughout most situation, including her father’s abuse she talks about how many children always have a certain parent who doesn’t love them or show affection to them but wonders why must she have two?
I guess you can say she feels sad about the “problem’ she’s in but yet doesn’t really show it. Which shows how strong she can be, most part during the book, Lily mostly talked about how she longed to see her mother and how she also longed for her affection, and that how they’re something things only one’s mother could teach them. She reflects on the mother she allegedly killed and compares herself to her unknown mother, always coming up short. She imagines her mother romantically, doing things ideal mothers do, like brushing Lily’s hair.
One might say Lily felt “alone”. After Lily was shown some of her mother’s stuff by August. She finds the photo of her mother feeding her as a child, and all the longing and sadness of her life is contained in her reaction. Lily had connection to human who treated her like she’s a human being. Starting from the teacher who told her to pursue her dream to Rosaleen who “inspired” her and also Zach who gave her a journal, This were the set of people who gave her the courage she needed to stand up to her abusive father. By forgiving herself and her mother, Lily became a better person than her father. All her life, Lily has accused her life for her mother death and she was also a mad about her mother for leaving. But she founded a way to forgive both her mother and father. After doing that Lily then figured the reason between her father’s bitterness and anger. Lily tried reaching out to him but he couldn’t find a way in himself to forgive himself for all he did to Lily. Being able to see his viewpoint is the final step in Lily’s growing into a young woman who believes in her worth and can love others.
A Journey That Changed Life in The Secret Life of Bees
Journey of a Lifetime
A journey from old places to new is bound to have a significant impact on one’s life. In the novel, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, the protagonist Lily Owens sets off on a life changing journey for answers and support after refusing to believe her father, T. Ray, who says that her mother Deborah left her. Lily and her caretaker Rosaleen set off to Tiburon, a city that was written on the back of her mother’s picture of the black Mary. Lily decides to travel to this city as she believes that it contains clues to her mother’s clouded past and ends up in the Boatwright residence with August, June, and May Boatwright. This journey does not end at Tiburon, however, as she must collect the broken shards of her mother’s past in order to discover what actually happened the day her mother died, and if she left her. Lily then experiences significant life changes that allowed her to mature, an action T. Ray prevented from occurring. This journey changes Lily by allowing other women with a will as powerful as her own who influence her and love her into her life, while the journey relates to the work by involving the theme of maternal figures and bees.
First of all, the journey changes Lily’s life by allowing other women into her life who all have a will as strong as her own. After T. Ray has left the Boatwright residence, Lily thought, “And there they were. All these mothers. I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shining over me” (Kidd 302). Lily believes that since T. Ray has decided to leave her at Tiburon, she now has many maternal figures in her life. In Sylvan, Lily’s only maternal figure was Rosaleen, who was limited by T. Ray’s tyranny. In addition, Lily’s maternal figures are strong-willed, influential, and powerful. While they were having a chat while sticking labels on honey jars, August explains to Lily, “I love him enough… I just loved my freedom more” (Kidd 146). August explains to Lily that she values her independence more than marriage. The fact that she chooses to remain independent rather than be restricted by marriage shows that she is a strong-willed woman that influences Lily. These influences allowed Lily to mentally strengthen and mature, to the point where T. Ray even confused Lily for her mother Deborah. The fact that Lily was influenced by many strong-willed women such as August, who decided to pursue independence, proves that her journey changed her life by introducing other maternal figures into her life.
Next, the journey changes Lily’s life as she was finally able to feel love from others. While explaining to Lily why she is not unlovable, August explains, “Why, Rosaleen loves you. May loved you. It doesn’t take a wizard to see Zach loves you. And every one of the daughters loves you. And June, despite her ways, loves you, too” (Kidd 242). August explains to Lily that everyone that she has met loves her. Even though Rosaleen loves her, her love is limited by the fact that she is not Lily’s biological mother. Once Lily stayed in Tiburon, however, she was finally able to experience being truly loved as the love from several maternal figures was greater than even love from one biological mother. Afterwards, during her conversation with August about how she is not unlovable, Lily thinks, “All this love to me. I didn’t know what to do with it” (Kidd 243). Lily believes that she has received an abundance of love from all of her maternal figures. She has changed since her departure from Sylvan as she now believes that there are people who truly love her, proving that the journey significantly changes her life. Overall, the journey changes Lily’s life as she was able to feel love from maternal figures, an event that she had not experienced before in Sylvan.
Finally, the journey relates to the work as a whole as it involves the power of the maternal figures, an important theme, and its similarity to the journey of a bee, the namesake of the novel. Before chapter fourteen commences, a quote states, “A queenless colony is a pitiful and melancholy community; there may be a mournful wail or lament from within…. Without intervention, the colony will die. But introduce a new queen and the most extravagant change takes place” (Kidd 277). A colony is unable to survive without a queen, who acts as a mother. However, if another is introduced, significant changes take place due to a queen’s power. Lily represents a colony, as she has lived her life without a mother. Once she is introduced to mothers who love her, she changes significantly by maturing under their powerful influence. Before the start of chapter eleven, a quote states, “It takes honeybee workers ten million foraging trips to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey” (Kidd 214). A bee’s life involves collecting enough nectar for one main goal: honey. Lily’s journey is similar to this as she collects clues and information about her mother in order to discover if she left her and love, along with the fact that both journeys are grueling and difficult. Achieving this goal resolves the problem that has been bothering her ever since, similar to how creating honey fulfills a worker bee’s purpose in life. The journey that Lily takes relates to the work as a whole due to the fact that her journey is relates to the power of maternal figures and a bees goal of creating honey.
All in all, Lily pursues a journey which changes her life by introducing powerful and loving maternal figures into her life and relates to the work by involving the theme of powerful maternal figures as well as bees. First of all, the journey introduced powerful maternal figures into Lily’s life. These women positively influenced Lily and allowed her to mature into a young woman. Next, the journey introduced Lily to the feeling of being loved. The women that were introduced to Lily’s life loved her, and August explained to her that she is not unlovable. Finally, the journey relates to the work as a whole as it involved the theme of powerful maternal figures and bees. Once Lily was introduced to her maternal figures, she changed significantly as a queen less colony changes with a new queen. In addition, her journey of acquiring clues to find out about her mother is similar to a bee’s journey of acquiring nectar for honey. Lily’s journey of discovery and love proves that seemingly simple journeys can have significant changes waiting to be discovered. If the effort to take such journeys is performed, one will be greatly changed, usually for the better.
A Role Of Bees in The Secret Life of Bees Novel
A Worker Bee Within
Often hidden from even the most trusted of friends and family, secrets provide a certain mystery around an individual. Honey bees, in way, participate in the circle of life in a similar manner, their ways and cycles are kept for some time unknown. In the novel, The Secret Life of Bees, author Sue Monk Kidd connects the behaviors of honey bees to the maturation process of the protagonist, Lily. Based on the her experiences, Lily is often equated with a worker bee, and the epigraphs in the novel support the idea that her trials and successes link in some way to a bee’s life. In a way, Lily’s loss, burden, and necessity for a motherly figure shines through the mysterious ways of bees.
It is a strange phenomena to behold when a bee colony loses its queen bee. They often lay about lazily in a trance-like state, then grow to be chaotically unsettled, and ultimately die. This is because the queen bee’s presence is a vital necessity among worker bees, and only with her do the bees function properly, “The queen, for her part , is the unifying force of the community. If she is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours…they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness,” (Kidd 1). Lily’s struggle with her mother’s abandonment mirrors the concept of the bees’ behavior. Contemplating the true story behind her mother’s tragedy, Lily falls into deep distress in finding out the truth about her mother, “’The truth is, your mother ran off and left you. The day she died, she’d come back to get her things, that’s all. You can hate me all you want, but she’s the one who left you,” (39). For some time, her only source of an account of her mother’s death was T. Ray, but his violent input on the matter never satisfies Lily’s doubts and questions. Just like how a worker bee becomes helpless without its queen, so too is Lily without her mother.
Lacking any tangible proof of her mother’s love for her, Lily searches for the truth of her mother’s abandonment. In doing so, she fatefully ends up at the Boatwright sisters’ doorstep. They ask of her origins, which stirs Lily to generate false accounts of Rosaleen and herself. Although her lies are “accepted,” Lily does not approve of her dishonesty; and each secret she hides from them adds more weight on her shoulders to bear, “…I had myself a good cry. I couldn’t even say why. Just everything…because I hated lying to August when she was so good to me,” (123). Lily finds it difficult to sleep at night, wondering how to approach August about her mother. But without a proper way for her to ask, she constantly holds back her thoughts. With constant conflict within herself, the questions of when and how to ask August remain unanswered. This burden that she carries for quite some time reflects the natural strength of a bee, “A worker bee…weighs only about sixty milligrams; nevertheless, she can fly with a load heavier than herself,” (257). A bee bears a load heavier than itself the way Lily bears the weight of her secrets. However, Lily is not a bee. Eventually the weight of her burden becomes “heavier than her,” and Lily’s strength to conceal the truth finally fails. Nonetheless, when her strength does fail, August is there to understand and answer all her questions, thereby relieving her burden. Both Lily and a worker bee both carry burdens heavier than they, but it is only Lily who can finally let go of her load.
Without her mother, Lily becomes unguided and unsure of herself. Without the fortitude to reveal the truth, Lily becomes burdened with lies. However, these two elements of Lily’s life only branch out of Lily’s main obstacle in life, her own loss. It is her loss in which Lily has so many problems. A bee, in a way, has an advantage over Lily. After so much burden and loss of the queen, the bee just dies. Lily has to live and cope through her journey in life, having no mother and all the burden. However, Lily has an advantage over a bee. Lily can overcome her loss and move on, “A queenless colony is a pitiful and melancholy community…without intervention, the colony will die,” (277). When Lily finally confronts August to discover the truth about what happens to her mother, the first thing she loses is her “dreamworld”, ‘“I hate her…she wasn’t anything like I thought she was.’ I’d spent my life imagining all the ways she’d love me, what a perfect specimen of a mother she was. And all of it was lies. I had completely made her up,” (252). Before she comes to a revelation about her mother, Lily always pictures her mother as a saint whom she can intercede for, someone who never would leave her child. But with the hard facts August lays on her, Lily feels nothing but anger and hatred for her mother. Apparent is her loss of her affection for her mother. In order to cope with the new sense of abandonment, Lily broods by the riverbed, “mourning” and wishing that she can forget everything and go back to her dreamworld. Eventually, after much thinking, Lily finally accepts the tragedy for her mother and herself. Afterward, with T. Ray gone, the Daughters of Mary adopt her, “…introduce a new queen and the most extravagant change takes place,” (277). With a fully developed view of her past, Lily looks now toward the future, placing her love in trust from her mother towards her new mothers. The way to her mother’s true story is hard to bear for Lily, but in the end, Lily can now rejoice the same way a bee does when it receives a new queen.
The journey of a bee is a very treacherous one. Constantly threatened by many obstacles and predators, one may think a bee’s life impossible. In Lily’s perspective, her pain, suffering, and utter burden cast a shadow over what could be her “happy” life. One must remember that single worker bee cannot survive on its own, just as Lily. However, it is through the community of the hive and the connection to the queen that makes a bee ever so thrive. In a way, Lily would not be able to cope through her loss, burden, and abandonment without the support of her new mothers, the Boatwright sisters, and the experience of her journey similar to the life of a worker bee. Although it takes some time for Lily to find her hive, at least now she has the potential to become her own queen.
Evolution Of The Main Character in The Secret Life of Bees
Lily’s Change of Views
“This is the moment I remember clearest of all-how I stood in the driveway looking back at them. I remember the sight of them standing there waiting. All these women, all this love, waiting”(Kidd 299). In the novel The Secret Life Of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Lily Owen’s perspective on life changes greatly throughout the book. In the beginning of the novel, Lily has some prejudice towards black people because T-Ray taught her that growing up. She also does not know much about her mother, except that she accidentally shot and killed her when she was young. By the end of the book, Lily’s views on her mother and races change greatly. Through the course of the novel, Lily changes in many ways, demonstrating that sometimes a different point of view can change one’s perspective of life.
The primary way Lily changes is that she learns more about her mother. When Lily first arrives at the Boatwright’s, she cannot tell them the truth about her life and her mother. She also lies and says that her father was killed in a tractor accident last month and that she would be sent to a home if she did not find anyone to stay with. This leaves her confused and curious about her mother’s background. Finally, she approaches August to reveal the truth, and August admits that she knew all along. August proceeds to tell her everything about her mother. This causes Lily to lose some of the guilt she has from killing her mother because August comforts her and assures her that it was an accident and that she is still lovable. Right after Lily reveals to August that she accidentally killed her mother, August says, “ That’s a terrible, terrible thing for you to live with. But you’re not unlovable. Even if you did accidentally kill her, you are still the most dear, most lovable girl I know”(Kidd 242).
August’s words help Lily to feel relieved because she felt all the guilt piled up on her, causing her to feel an array of emotions, specifically that she was unlovable and unwanted. August’s words help soothe her worries and the quote suggests she is telling her to put that accident in the past because everyone still loves her the same. During this conversation, Lily also learns about T-Ray and Deborah’s relationship. August tells Lily that T-Ray used to be different, that he was brave and treated Deborah like a princess, and Lily cannot believe that they are talking about the same person. Overall, Lily learned a lot about T-Ray that she was unaware of. Their long talk helps Lily to change because she gets to see a new perspective on T-Ray, she learns more about her mother’s background and she is able to feel loved despite the accident.
Throughout the novel, not only do Lily’s views on her mother change, but her perspective on race changes too. When Lily first meets Zach, she suggests that he be a professional football player. She makes this assumption after Zach says he does not have much of a future since he’s negro. He tells her he aspires to be a lawyer instead. Lily argues that there is no such thing as a Negro lawyer and that you have to hear of something before you can be it. Zach gets angry at this point and says to imagine what has never been. This is a turning point where Lily realizes that he could be right, that someone should not have to follow what everyone else does and the rules of society, but go their own way and do what they want. Also, at this same time in the book, Lily is surprised because she is attracted to Zach. Lily narrates,
If he was shocked over me being white, I was shocked over him being handsome. At my school they made fun of colored people’s lips and noses. I myself had laughed at these jokes, hoping to fit in. Now I wished I could pen a letter to my school to be read at opening assembly that would tell them how wrong we’d all been. You should see Zachary Taylor, I’d say. (Kidd 116)
This passage highlights how she realizes how wrong she had been about black people and being prejudiced. She realizes that even though he is not white she can still be attracted to him. At that point, since she has realized that everything she knew and learned from T-Ray was not true, it opens her eyes and allows her to be more accepting of everything in life. Lily’s change towards race helps her out because it makes her more aware of the world around her and makes her change in other ways, too.
As a final point, Lily finally feels loved and accepted at the end of the novel. When she lives with T-Ray and Rosaleen, she feels like T-Ray doesn’t care about her at all. However, when she is at the Boatwrights she finally feels at home and loved. When Lily is standing in the driveway watching T-Ray leave, she turns around to see all of the Boatwrights standing there, waiting for her. At that moment, she comes to the realization that they care about her and they want her to stay with them. She even says that she can feel all their love waiting for her. This is a huge change for Lily because she has never felt loved in her life; she has always felt useless with T-Ray and just kind of ‘there’. At the Boatwright’s, August and the sisters welcome her and help her fit in. At the beginning of the novel, Lily is sitting at the dinner table asking T-Ray for a charm bracelet and he never gives an answer:
“I started to say, So then, what about the bracelet? but I could see he’d already given his answer, and it caused a kind of sorrow to rise in me that felt fresh and tender and had nothing, really, to do with the bracelet. I think now it was sorrow for the sound of his fork scraping the plate, the way it swelled in the distance between us, how I was not even in the room”(Kidd 22).
At the end of the sentence, when Lily says the part about how she was not even in the room, it captures the feeling that T-Ray gives her, which is that she is unwanted. She feels ignored in this scene, as if her request for a charm bracelet did not matter to him and he did not even feel the need to answer. This is a big comparison to the end of the novel when she feels all the love from the Boatwright sisters. The change in Lily’s feelings of being loved is a huge and important change because it makes her a more comfortable and loved person.
A different perspective towards life can influence one’s point of view on life is something that describes Lily’s vast changes throughout the book. Lily changes in multiple ways in this novel, and all of them allow her to become a better person. All of these changes are very big also, and are hard for her to make happen, but they do. By the end of the novel, Lily has learned more about her mother and is able to understand the situation, she no longer has prejudice towards black people and she finally feels loved and wanted, which she never did when she lived with T-Ray.
Love, Forgiveness, Enlightenment: Lily’s Journey in The Secret Life of Bees
In The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, Lily Owens defines herself by her mistakes; the memory of her mother’s death haunts every aspect of her life. By escaping from her old life, attempting to overcome guilt and find truth in her actions, Lily realizes that she is seeking knowledge and experience in herself, rather than forgiveness. In Tiburon, Lily learns about love; how to find it where there was once hate, how to forgive, and how to love all. Through this, Lily is able to no longer define herself by her mistakes, but what she learned from them and ultimately, learn to love herself.
Under the tyrannical control of T-ray, Lily has never been allowed opportunities to learn about love, and that one can love someone that they once hated. When Lily comes across June who at first dislikes Lily, she doesn’t realize the possibility of loving June despite her harsh ways. The racial tension at the time causes June to initially give Lily the cold shoulder because “she’s white”. June learns to accept Lily as time goes by, but it takes Lily more than time itself to do the same. Spraying June with the water hose helped Lily realize her love for June despite her initial mean ways, and allowed June to “Hug her while their clothes made sweet, squishy sounds up and down their bodies”(Kidd 170) By finally hugging June, Lily displayed the sisterly intimacy between the two girls and taught Lily how to love the person she used to despise. Learning how to love in this way helped Lily greatly, but with creating new love also comes forgiveness.
Once Lily can understand that love can be created in a place where there once was hate, she can learn to forgive. Lily’s relationship with T-ray was anything but paternal, “daddy never fit him”.(Kidd, 2), but Lily needs to realize that love comes in many forms that are not necessarily as obvious as others. T-ray’s incapability to show affection for Lily leads her to believe that he doesn’t love her, thinking “so what if he doesn’t know the color you love best?”(Kidd, 160). To Lily, not knowing or caring about the little things about her tells her that T-ray does not truly love her. However, while keeping bees, august teaches Lily “there are 32 names for love in the eskimo language”(Kidd, 140). From this Lily, concludes that if there are 32 names for love, then there are as many different types of love, T-ray’s not being the only kind she knew before. Now that Lily knows T-ray does truly love her but shows it in a way she used to not be able to comprehend, she can call him “Daddy”, a word that once did not fit him. By forgiving others, Lily can forgive herself and develop one love for all things.
In order for Lily to completely figure out what she is searching for, she has to learn how to link all of her experiences together, creating one love. Lily can never attain full inner peace with herself until she understands the concept of unity, a single love for all things and everyone. While tending to the bees. Lily desperately tries to send love to all of them, crying, “I love you, I love you. She tried to say it in 32 ways.”(Kidd. 149). Lily knows she has to achieve one love but is overwhelmed and confused, thinking that just her words and thoughts will achieve this goal. However, this goal is nothing more than a concept until Lily can perform it with her actions. Eventually Lily realizes this and “traces black Mary’s heart with her finger. You are the mother of thousands”(Kidd, 164). The spiritual black Madonna guides Lily through the process of showing and accepting love with everyone. By touching Mary’s heart, she has let Mary’s love in, therefore letting her own love out to thousands.
The process by which Lily goes through to find inner enlightenment teaches her ideas she would not have been capable of doing on her own. By learning to find love where there isn’t any, she learns to forgive, and eventually can find one inner love for all. Despite her new knowledge, Lily never comes to complete closure on the death of her mother. Likewise, it was never closure on Lily’s mistake years ago that she needed, but closure on herself and her own inner acceptance. By learning these new things, Lily is no longer defined by her mistakes, but what she learned from them and the people who helped her along the way.
Insights from 1964: The Case Against Setting ‘The Secret Life of Bees’ in a Later Time Period
Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd features a young, caucasian girl, Lily, who lives with three African American sisters, the Boatwrights. The novel takes place in Sylvan and Tiburon, South Carolina during 1964: high time for the civil rights movement. Throughout the novel, Lily sees a lot of racial injustice, but if the novel took place after the civil rights movement it would not have had the same effect, because the racial discrimination was not as prominent then. Even if the novel took place before the civil rights movement, there still wouldn’t have been the same effect, because before then, there was little push for civil rights, and there was little talk of racial advancements in the media.
After May’s death, a police officer asks Lily, “Didn’t you have any white people back in Spartanburg you could stay with?” (page 197) and “These are colored people […] it’s not natural, that you shouldn’t be… well, lowering yourself,”(page 198). This shows how African Americans were regarded in 1964; the police officer thought it was odd for a white person to live with a black person. On the other hand, if this took place after the civil rights movement, it would not be uncommon for black and white people to live together. Therefore, if the story was not set in that time, the police officer’s words would not have had the same effect that they do. Lily’s love interest, Zach, was a teenaged African American male. Throughout the novel, Zach refuses Lily’s advances because he knows that society would be against them being together. For example, after Zach gets Lily a notebook, Lily throws her arms around him and leans into his chest in an embrace, but Zach takes her off and tells her, “There are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you,” (page 135). Kidd’s use of the phrases “girl like you” and “boy like me” suggest that Zach is referring to their racial differences. They can not be together because Zach is black and Lily is white. If this was written after the civil rights movement, it wouldn’t be uncommon for interracial partners, so this quote would not put forth the same image of racial discrimination and Zach’s concerns would not have the give the reader the same amount of understanding.
At one point, Lily says “We had a rumor about a busload of people from New York City showing up to integrate the city pool. Talk about Panic. We has a citywide emergency in our hands, as there is no greater affliction for our southern mind than people up north coming down to fix our way of life.” (page 155) The setting of the story is essential for this quote because this was the only point in time where the Northern and Southern parts of the United States felt this way about each other. Kidd would not be able to include this part if she changed the setting. The loss of this line would have taken away from the meaning of the novel, because not only does it provide an accurate description of one of the racial issues during the time, but it also shows how lily’s point of view is changing. This line gives off a sarcastic feel to show how Lily knows what they want her to think, but she thinks it is ridiculous.
Finally, during a dinner, the characters discuss a real life person, Jack Palance. Jack Palance, a caucasian celebrity, brought a non-white woman into the white section of a theater. This enraged many of the caucasian people at the time. It was not socially acceptable for a white man to treat a black person as an equal. The time period is important for this section because Jack Palance is part of the 1960s and again, racial discrimination was not as prominent after the civil rights movement.Furthermore, it would have been difficult for Kidd to choose a time period after 1964 in general, because of the technological advancement that occurred during the industrial revolution. The whole novel is based around the premise that Lily was able to break her servant, Rosaleen, out of jail and runaway to Tiburon. If this novel occurred in modern times, Lily would not have been able to get away with what she did because it would have been easier to track them down, so they would have to stay hidden.
Regardless of the technological advancements, Sue Monk Kidd would have had to make the novel take place in South Carolina in 1964 because the racial discrimination issues were prominent at this point in time. If Kidd chose a different time period, the racial issues would not have been as essential of an issue, so it would limit Kidd’s ability to discuss the problems. In order for the reader to get the most understanding and connection out of the novel, Kidd would have to choose 1964 as the time period and location of the novel.
The Secret Life of Bees
Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees, is greatly influenced by her own personal childhood growing up in a small town known as Sylvester, Georgia. Her environment of life growing up carried much impact on the contents and controversies played throughout her novel. As Sue Monk claims, “My job is to imagine deeply, not recount my history.” She powerfully reveals inspiring divine female power in her famous novel The Secret Life of Bees.
Sue Monk Kidd grew up in Sylvester, Georgia-a small rural town that was a site of intense racial injustices.
Growing up with continuous racial controversies occurring, Sue clearly injects the intensity of racial segregations in the South into her novel. Growing up, Kidd lived in a a plot a land that was isolated from much of the city, such as Lily Owens.
Throughout living in her childhood home, Kidd listened to the honeybees in the wall of her room. She includes this intriguing detail in her novel as well.
Sue was an intelligent young girl also reflecting back to her character, Lily. Sue was encouraged to pursue life as a writer, but the “cultural climate of the South in 1966” prompted her to achieve a degree in nursing instead.
This background is also displayed in the details of Lily Owens’ life. In The Secret Life of Bees, Miss Owens was given a journal that she often uses to write stories based upon real events she surpasses. This is inspired by the reality that Kidd also lives. As a kid, Sue Monk was influenced by writings of famous authors such as; Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. These authors caused Kidd to also write spiritual memoirs and novels.
While writing The Secret Life of Bees, Sue intertwines many stories that have actually taken place in her life. For example, Kidd continuously recalled an elderly negro woman in a shoe store, then later writes about Rosaleen’s spitting encounter with the three racists. She also grew up with the pleasure and luxury of having a black nanny herself, then giving Lily Owens a nanny named Rosaleen. Sue Monk Kidd experienced an intimacy with Mary and the empowering bonds between women, which is also expressed throughout her novel. These are just a few of the many factors of relation from Sue Monk Kidd’s childhood to her famous novel, The Secret Life of Bees.
In The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd includes many inspirations and influences from her childhood life. Her novel displays numerous events that stood still in Kidd’s heart, compelling her to intertwine her reality into the moving story of Lily Melissa Owens’ life. Author, Sue Monk Kidd’s biography dramatically impacted the layout of The Secret Life of Bees.
The Role of Feminism in the Secret Life of Bees
In Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees, the theme of feminism often reoccurs. Throughout the novel, Kidd reveals the aspects and importance of feminine power and matriarchy versus the typical role of masculine leadership and authority. The teachings of Carl Jung, a philosopher who believes that society would be better by emphasizing the importance of feminine values versus the masculine, deeply influences Kidd’s writings. These principles are greatly displayed in the plot and theme of The Secret Life of Bees.
Lily’s desire for a mother, and the importance of having a mother, as well as Kidd’s portrayal of strong female characters show feminism as a key part of the plot of the novel. The main plot of the novel centers around Lily’s overwhelming longing for her mother and her search for a woman’s guidance in her life. Throughout the book, Lily speaks of her desire for her mother’s presence. “That night I lay in bed and thought about dying and going to be with my mother in paradise” (Kidd 3).
Lily emphasizes her belief that her mother would have been the best thing for her life at many points, including from the very beginning of the novel, with statements such as this: “This is what I know about myself. [My mother] was all I ever wanted. And I took her away” (8). When Lily stumbles across the Boatwright sisters, she finds a source of motherly wisdom and feminine guidance in August. August acts almost as a substitute for the motherly experience Lily has missed out on, giving Lily instruction and knowledge, such as “You know, some things don’t matter that much, like the color of a house.
But lifting a person’s heart –now that matters” (147). August also teaches Lily the importance of nature and love, and how they relate to society. For example, referring to the bees, August tells Lily “Every little thing wants to be loved” (92). Lily finally receives the maternal guidance and strong female role model she has been searching for, and finds joy in her experience of feminine ideals. The importance of female divinity within the plot also characterizes the novel’s bent toward feminine power.
Lily’s interest in Catholicism, which places importance on Mary, the mother of Jesus, is a point often brought up in the novel. “All I could really figure out was my mother had been mixed up with the Catholics somehow, and–I have to say–this secretly thrilled me” (58). Throughout the storyline, her fascination with Mary and the feminine divine grow as she spends time with the Boatwright sisters, who worship Mary. Mary quickly becomes a crucial ingredient in Lily’s character, serving as a source of guidance and inspiration for her.
I started thinking about the world loaded with disguised Marys sitting around all over the place and hidden red hearts tucked about that people could rub and touch, only we didn’t recognize them” (142). Most importantly The Secret Life of Bees is loaded with colorful and strong female characters. For example, Rosaleen’s stubborn attitude and refusal to back down to anyone contradicts typical expectancy for women to sit back and take the treatment men give them, especially for colored women in the sixties.
When a group of white males attempt to stir up trouble with Rosaleen, she responds with this: “Rosaleen lifted her snuff jug, which was filled with black spit, and calmly poured it across the tops of the men’s shoes” (32). And despite physically beating her after the incident, Rosaleen refuses to succumb to their demands of an apology. “Two of them held me by the arms while the other one hit me – the one with the flashlight. He said, ‘Nigger, you say you’re sorry. ’ When I didn’t, he came at me. He hit me till the policeman said that was enough. They didn’t get no apology, though” (46).
June Boatwright displays strong femininity with her refusal to marry Neil due to the sake of having to give up her life to a man. June’s sister, August shows off yet another example of Kidd’s rich female characters, distinguishing herself with her wise, cultured, and interesting personality. “On [August’s] dressing table, where less interesting people would’ve put a jewelry box or a picture frame, August had a fish aquarium turned upside down with a giant piece of honeycomb inside it” (233). August shows herself to be extremely intelligent and clever, which challenges the typical opinion of black women.
June always said that most people bit off more than they could chew, but August chewed more than she bit off” (244). These rich female characters help shape the plot and quality of Kidd’s novel. Instead of centering a plotline around male characters with masculine strongpoints, The Secret Life of Bees takes a less opted for route. Due to Kidd’s encouragement of female guidance through mothers and female divinity, and a variety of wonderful female characters, a fantastic novel with a marvelous plotline which emphasizes the importance of the feminine is brought to life.
Maturity in the Secret Life of Bees
“One is not born but rather becomes a woman”- Simone De Beauvoir. In Sue Monk Kidd’s, The Secret Life of Bees, Lily Owens engages on a life changing expedition to make sense of her difficult predicament. Lily shows that she is a dynamic character as she matures in this coming of age novel. Lily portrays growth throughout the novel with her behavior with T. Ray, her prejudice view on the people who surround her, and her poor judgement about her mother.
Lily, the protagonist in The Secret Life of Bees, drastically changes her behavior with T. Ray throughout the course of the novel. Although at first screams and argues with him, Lily soon transforms and has a talk with T. Ray in a polite manner. In the beginning, while speaking with T. ray about Rosaleen being in jail, an argument breaks out about her mother when T. Ray tries to hit her.
Lily then shouts at him stating, “‘my mother will never let you touch me again! [ …] I hate you!’” T.
Ray then gets angry and replies saying, “’you think that goddamn woman gave a shit about you? […] The truth is, your sorry mother ran off and left you. The day she died, she’d come back and get her things, that’s all. You can hate me all you want, but she’s the one who left you” (38-39). As soon the fight is over, the words sink in and settle in Lily’s mind which she is now concerned and questioning her mother leaving her as a child which causes her to pack her things, rescue Rosaleen and runs away to Tiburon. Over a period of time that Lily spends there with the Boatwright sisters and Zach she matures.
Although the scenario still lingers in her mind Lily continues to live her life. When T. Ray finally finds Lily, Lily invites him into the house and talks to him in a respectful way. T. Ray starts by saying, “’Well, well, well. Look who’s here.’” Lily then responds saying, “’won’t you come in? […] have a seat if you want to’” (290). Lily’s demeanor towards her father is surely apparent than her past conversations with him. Even though it is evident that she would never go back home with him, she still shows him respect. Lily’s growth is proven through her modification in behavior towards her father.
Throughout the novel, Lily experiences some hurtful thoughts about the people who take her in. Even though she has nothing against colored people, Lily thinks some prejudice thoughts about the Boatwright’s and Zach. After August shows Rosaleen and Lily where they are going to sleep, she starts to remember what T. Ray said about colored women and reveals her own thoughts: “T. Ray did not think colored women were smart. Since I wanted to tell the whole truth, which means the worst parts, I thought they could be smart, but not as smart as me, me being white.
Lying on the cot in the honey house, though, all I could think was August is so intelligent, so cultured, and I was surprised by this. That’s what let me know I had some prejudice buried inside me. ” (78) Lily is very shocked that she thinks this way about colored people and soon acknowledges her bias thoughts. Despite the fact that Lily may have noticed her prejudice act, she still continues down the same path without noticing. While hanging out with Zach on the grass, Zach tells Lily that he doesn’t have much of a future since he is a Negro and she tells him how doing sports is the only way he can be successful.
She goes and says, “’well, you could play football for a college team and then be a professional player. ’” Zach then retorts and says, “’why is it sports is the only thing white people see us being successful at? I don’t want to play football, I wanna be a lawyer. ’” Lily then comes back again annoyed commenting, “’that’s fine with me, I’ve just never heard of a Negro lawyer, that’s all. You’ve got to hear of these things before you can imagine them’” (120-121). Lily’s prejudice ways are evident in her harsh comments towards Zach.
Even though she says all those rude things, she accepts Zach’s choices and supports it. Lily’s maturity is portrayed through her acceptance of Zach’s choices and wish. While staying at the Boatwright’s, Lily continues to think about what T. Ray told her about her mother leaving her as a child. Lily makes some atrocious comments about her mother in spite of her leaving. While speaking with August after telling her that she’s Deborah’s daughter, she reveals to August how she hates her mother and how her mother never wanted her which August then tells her how T.
Ray wanted to put her in Bull Street the mental institution. “’It was easy for her to leave me; because she never wanted me in the first place… you should’ve let him put her in there. I wish she’d rotted in there’” (252) Obviously, Lily’s negative words and thought have clouded her true feelings about her mother. August soon convinces Lily about her mother leaving.
Further into the conversation, August tells Lily that even though her mother left her, she came back for her the day she died which makes think: “T. Ray had told me that she came back for her things. But she’d come back for me, too. She’d wanted to bring me here, to Tiburon, to August’s. If only we’d made it. I remember the sound of T. Ray’s boots on the stairs. I wanted to pound my fists against something, to scream at my mother for getting caught, for not packing faster, for not coming sooner. ” (254) Lily soon realizes that her mother did love her and wanted to be with her even though she still blames her for not packing faster.
Despite the fact that her mother did leave her in the beginning, she still loves her mother, even more now that she knows that she was coming back just for her. Lily’s growth is surely evident due to the fact that Lily had a deeper understanding of what happened the day her mother died and she changed her perspectives on her. The Boatwright sisters, Zach and Lily herself are ultimately the ones to acknowledge for her astonishing change in behavior, her conversion of perspective on the people who take her in, and her modification to her dreadful comments made about her mother which help her grow in many ways.
The decisions she makes and paths she takes are influenced with the help from people who love her. In order to mature and gain an understanding, Lily goes Tiburon to seek her and her mother’s past, get a deeper understanding of why her mother left in the first place and change her view on things. It is apparent that people will do anything to get answers to complex questions that may be lingering in the minds, and on the way to getting their answers they experience growth, love and compassion and leave with a deep understanding.