Allusions in Secret Life of Bees

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Allusion is the literary device of referencing famous people, places, things, or other works-such as a novel, poem, play, song, or piece of art—with the expectation that the reader will understand the reference. While readers may have to educate themselves in order to understand the full meaning of allusions made in texts written in previous eras, it is assumed that contemporaries of the author would be able to discern such references. The use of allusion is particularly important in historical fiction, such as The Secret Life of Bees, in which a modern author chooses a particular historical time period as the setting of a novel, for either educational or entertainment purposes.

Great literature is typically considered as such because it has universal themes that transcend generations, or even centuries. But historical fiction begs its readers not only to learn from these universal themes, but also to immerse themselves in the chosen time period. Why? What could we possibly learn from a storyline set in a time period so foreign to us? Why is it important that the story of Lily Owens be set in 1964, or that the first page of the novel begins the week of the passing of the Voting Rights Act? And if it is important, how does Sue Monk Kidd so effectively make her readers feel as if they too were walking around in that sweltering South Carolina summer that occurred more than forty five years ago?

Author Sue Monk Kidd

The answer, of course, is allusion. Kidd writes with such
conscientious attention to the detail of her setting that readers are practically teleported to the time period. We can see it in the description of the landscape—both natural and manmade. We
feel it in the oppressive heat experienced by characters cooling themselves with paper fans decades before air conditioning
became a common household convenience. We taste the foods
of both the era and the region, as Kidd weaves specific product names into vivid descriptions of southern culinary...
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