The Concept of Monomyth in Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees

March 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth is employed to develop Lily’s journey from a lack of familial recognition and worthlessness into a new life of true meaning and appreciation. Joseph Campbell argues that all stories are essentially the same because of their relation to the monomyth. Throughout this journey, the hero undergoes three critical phases, which include the departure, initiation, and return. They must overcome barriers and may drift away into peril, but will eventually gain the freedom to live. Along with applying the theory of monomyth to works of fiction, Campbell also utilized the idea of archetypes created by Carl Jung. He used them to discover the profound meanings behind myth and religion. More importantly, these archetypes are present in novels to express the collective unconscious and are a significant part of the hero’s journey. In every monomyth, the hero must first leave his or her home in order to embark on an empowering journey. This first step is known as the departure. In Kidd’s novel, Lily follows many of the same steps of the departure as were described by Joseph Campbell. Lily’s first action in the voyage is when she is called to the adventure. After T. Ray takes Lily home from jail, she is sent to her room; they engage in an argument concerning Lily’s mother. T. Ray laughs, “ ‘The woman could have cared less about you.’ Lily says, ‘That’s not true, it’s not’” (Kidd 39). After this indignant comment from T. Ray, Lily feels completely empty inside. Throughout her entire young life, Lily has lacked a strong mother archetype and is now realizing that she must go on a sort of journey in order to re-establish this archetype within her collective unconscious. Many heroes are also given the help of something that is beyond their world, a type of paranormal support. Joseph Campbell states that another move along the road of departure includes the assistance of a supernatural aid. As Lily is sitting in her room after T. Ray scolds her, she hears a voice inside her head. Lily thinks, “ I heard a voice say, Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open. In a matter of seconds I knew exactly what I had to do- leave” (Kidd 41). Lily is given the incentive to leave the house from the voice inside her head. To her, it transforms into a rare opportunity in which she is given justification to abandon her home and do better for herself. Later in the novel, August describes the sound that Lily hears in her mind as the voice of Mary. Throughout the duration of the novel, Lily applies this voice within herself as a guide that leads her down the path of her unconscious mind. Now that Lily has decided that she must leave T. Ray, she must take her first steps away from home. Campbell refers to this stage of the departure as crossing the first threshold. Lily crosses this limit after she gathers all of her possessions and writes a letter to T. Ray. Lily’s letter says, “’Dear T. Ray, don’t bother looking for me. Lily. P.S. People who tell lies like you should rot in hell’”(Kidd 42). Lily has truly crossed the point of no return; she now must disappear because after T. Ray finds this letter, she knows he will severely punish her. She has no alternative other than to continue on her journey away from home. Campbell refers to the first challenge of the hero as “the belly of the whale.” This experience will test the will of the hero and supply him or her with the necessary ideals to continue. Lily encounters her first major test after she decides that she must free Rosaleen. Lily goes to the hospital to which Rosaleen has been consigned and proceeds to call a nurse in the colored section of the hospital while pretending to be the jailer`s wife. Lily states, “ ‘Mr. Gaston wants you to send the policeman that we`ve got there back to the station. Tell him the preacher is on his way to sign some papers, and Mr. Gaston can’t be here cause he had to leave just now’” (Kidd 48). With the policeman gone, Lily and Rosaleen are able to escape. Telling such a lie was a difficult test for Lily because she must defy the law in order to help Rosaleen escape. This trial shows that Lily is competent and has the will power she needs in order to complete her adventure. At this point in the novel, Lily has completed the stage of departure. The situations that Lily must overcome in the steps of the departure show how Lily is following Campbell’s theory of monomyth.There is a significant amount of evidence that the initiation phase of the monomyth exists in The Secret Life of Bees. Lily begins the road of trials when she starts the journey to August’s house. During this journey, Lily begins her terrible habit of lying. Lily tells a lie to a salesman that she meets, right before finding out where her mother received the picture of the black Mary. “ ‘I don’t believe I’ve seen you before,’ he said. ‘I’m not from around here. I’m visiting my grandmother’” (Kidd 62). Lily has begun to step out of her normal routine by telling lies, which is something that she would have never done back at her home with T. Ray because she knew it was morally wrong and unethical. Shortly after reaching August’s house, Lily has the meeting with the goddess, or god in this case. This character serves as another role in Campbell’s monomyth. Lily is instantly charmed by Zachary’s looks and behavior. Lily thought, “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” (Kidd 116). Zachary is Lily’s god in the story, because she consistently finds him amazing and lovable. To Lily, Zach is flawless; he is a substitute father figure in a way, because he possesses all of the positive, upstanding qualities that T. Ray lacks as a father. Once Lily realizes that Zach has all of these qualities she has never admired in a male before, Zach becomes her god. Not only does Lily have Zach to distract her from the task at hand, but she also has a voice inside of her that is a temptation, wafting her away from the true path. In Lily’s case, the true path is to ascertain the truth about her mother. Lily wants so passionately to reveal the truth to August about who she is and why she has arrived, but something is increasing her resistance. August says, “ ‘You know, don’t you, that the two of us need to have a good talk. And this time not about me. About you’” (Kidd 152). “’I suppose,’ I answered. ‘What about right now?’‘Not right now’” (Kidd 152).Although Lily wants August to know the truth, there is one little voice inside her head telling her that she cannot do that because she is not ready to comes to terms with reality quite yet. After finally eliminating this distracting voice, Lily finds out who her mother was, why she knew August, and why she had left. “T.Ray had told me 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” (254). Lily achieves atonement with her mother here and forgives her when she realizes that her mother did love her after all. The same quote can be used to describe Lily’s ultimate boon. Lily also realizes here that her mother did not leave her, but was actually planning to bring Lily into a new and better life with her. Lily had someone that truly loved her, and to her, that is all that she ever needed to know. Ever since the night that T. Ray told Lily that her mother never cared about her, Lily nearly went insane wondering if T. Ray was telling the truth. What if her mother never did love her? Knowing that somebody actually did provided her with the self-confidence necessary to maintain her journey.The last section of Campbell’s monomyth structure is the departure. Within this final chapter, Lily succeeds in her journey to find out information about her mother. The first part of the departure is the refusal of the return. T. Ray finds Lily at the Boatwrights, barges in on her blissful life, and insists that she come home with him. Lily’s refusal of the return is when she rejects this unappealing offer. She tells him this firmly, yet he does not allow her to stay with August. In Campbell’s “the rescue from without”, August and the Daughters of Mary step in and allow Lily stand up to her father. August tells T .Ray that Lily is welcome to stay with her. Also, August and Rosaleen call and gather all the Daughters of Mary: “The front door opened, and Queenie, Violet, Lunelle, and Maybelee stumbled into the house, all wound up and looking like they had their clothes on backwards” (297). The Daughters knew Lily was in trouble and they had come to rescue her from T.Ray. Lily finally crosses the return threshold when T.Ray allows her to stay with August. ‘Good riddance’ is all he says to her upon her final departure from his life. He does not give her a hug or show any sign of compassion when he gives his daughter over to a complete stranger. After crossing the return threshold, Lily becomes the master of two worlds when she conquers her unconscious and her persona. In terms of Jung, this is an enormous step for a person to jump. She becomes aware of herself and does not care about what others think of her. When Lily and her friend go to visit Zach at his school with all white people, they are made fun of for wanting to be with him. “We have reputations as ‘nigger lovers,’ which is how it is put to us, and when the ignoramuses ball up their notebook paper and throw it at Zach in the hallway…Becca and I are just as likely to get popped in the head as he is. Zach says we should walk on the other side of the hall from him. We say, ‘Balled-up notebook paper- big deal’”(301). Not only does Lily not care about being called a “nigger lover,” but also she is willing to take a hit or two for her friend. She has grown tremendously throughout the novel and has finally mastered her two worlds. At the end, Lily receives the freedom to live. Lily begins the novel without any solid parental archetypes; however, throughout her journey she gains many maternal role models: “I go back to that one moment when I stood in the driveway with small rocks and clumps of dirt around my feet and looked back at the porch. 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” (302). Lily succeeds on her quest to find information about her mother, and she also succeeds in realizing much more. She gains a family that was definitely needed and wanted. She loves her new family with all her heart, and she knows they love her unconditionally. Joseph Campbell’s theory of the monomyth is evident throughout The Secret Life of Bees, and it demonstrates the depth of the hero’s journey. It is apparent how Lily goes through each of the three phases and lucratively fulfills her main aspiration. The archetypes can also be seen in the progression of the story, and it can be said that Lily even realizes the Self during her journey. Sue Monk Kidd’s novel is just one of the many works that can be understood within the monomyth because of its precise development and universal meaning.

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