The Secret Life of Bees - Critical Essay

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Kathy Holcomb
Prof. Robert Weber
English 112
April 14, 2009
The Secret Life of Bees
Critical Essay

Sue Monk Kidd has carefully crafted a book rich in symbolism with special emphasis on bees. Each section’s heading features the inner workings of this communal society (Emanuel, Catherine, B. 3). An epigraph at the beginning relating to bees sets the tone for the each chapter. The first chapter epigraph states: 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, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness.” Man and Insects. The Queen bee is the novel’s symbol of a mother figure and is used throughout Lily’s journey for identity and the conflicts she faces in resolving her “motherlessness” or “queenlessness.” Here we find Lily, an emotionally lost little girl who longs for a mother’s love. Her life has been dramatically affected by her mother’s absence. The fact that her mother died when she was four and the circumstances surrounding her mother’s death has left her in need of emotional healing. However, she isn’t afforded the opportunity as her father, T Ray, is angry and abusive and simply not there for her emotionally. She suffers from flashbacks of her mother’s death and feels she is somehow responsible. It is not just the mother's absence that haunts Lily as she grows up; it is the fuzzy memory of the circumstances of her mother's death that makes Lily secretly wonder if she is forgivable, lovable, good. (Kephart p 61). Lily is like a bee without a queen and is discontented and unhappy. The bees that visit Lily at night cause her to long for freedom and during the day she hears them in the walls of her bedroom and “imagined them in there turning the walls into honeycombs, with honey seeping out for me to taste.” (Monk Kidd 12). Honey is the only natural food made without destroying any form of life. Honey is also the only food that does not spoil. (Melissa Blakely Merall 1). It is the sweet substance of life produced in the hive and unspoiled by the elements. “The bees came the summer of 1964, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinning off into a whole new orbit.” (Monk Kidd 2). During this time of transition from girlhood to womanhood, Lily desperately longs for a mother’s love and guidance. She aches from the huge mother hole in her heart. The only female companionship and love afforded Lily comes from her African American housekeeper and nanny, Rosaleen. “I lay in bed, waiting for the bees to show up; thinking of what Rosaleen said when I told her about their nightly visitations.” (Monk Kidd 2). “Bees swarm before death,” she’d said. (Monk Kidd 2). The bees represent not only the freedom of flight and the ability of leaving behind her old life but also the possibility of this freedom in the face of seemingly impossible obstacles. For bees can fly in spite of all objections that it is scientifically, anatomically impossible for them to do so. And so there is hope for Lily. Monk Kidd beautifully combines many symbolic elements to move the story forward. Rosaleen’s journey for freedom during the era of the Civil Rights movement is a catalyst that serves as a vehicle of change in Lily’s life. Rosaleen’s stubborn conviction to claim and express her newfound freedom is the springboard for Lily’s courageous plunge into the unknown. Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open. (Monk Kidd 41). It was time for her to leave but “just where did I think I’d go?”(Monk Kidd 41). Of course! Tiburon, South Carolina, the town written on the back of the black Mary picture (Monk Kidd 41) and her only link to the mother she never knew. On the journey to Tiburon, Lily has a dream that the moon is breaking into pieces and falling from the sky. It symbolizes how she feels - that her life is falling apart. She has no idea what will happen when she reaches Tiburon -...
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