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” (Boppy).
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...
Cited: Boppy. AllReaders. 2007. 29 11 2013.
Brower, Charles. "Criticism of Secret Life of Bees." Literary Newsmakers for Students (2006).
Hamren, Kelly. "Too Much Honey-A Review of "The Secret Life of Bees"." 14 07 2011. lanternhollowpress. 4 12 2013.
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. Penguin Books, 2002.
Morey, Anne_Janine. "Criticism of Secret Lofe of Bees." Christian Century (2003): 68-70 vol. 120.
Shreve, Anita. "The Secret Life of Bees." Publishers weekly (2001): 33.
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