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Crucial Themes of the Book The Secret Life Of Bees

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The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd brings readers to the hot South Carolina summer of 1964, just after the Civil Rights Act had been signed. The novel follows a girl named Lily Owens who has a dead mother and a father who blames her for it. When Lily finds enough confidence to abandon her abusive father, she runs away with her housekeeper Rosaleen. They are led to the Boatwright household by a ‘Black Madonna Honey’ label. As Lily searches for clues about her mother, she learns more about herself and the people that matter most. Although up to this point Lily has never had a mother figure in her life, she is given the opportunity to take part in an almost mother-daughter type bond between herself and the three Boatwright sisters, who are the epitome of what a strong mother should be. These amazing women give Lily a chance to think for herself for once and make her own decisions. The power of feminism is demonstrated throughout this novel by the actions of different characters, as well as symbols.

Prejudice, discrimination, racism, the 1950s come to mind when these words are heard. This time period was filled with prejudice and extreme racial segregation. The author Sue Monk Kidd writes, “That’s fine with me,’ I said a little annoyed. ‘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,’ ‘Bullshit you gotta imagine what’s never been.” (Kidd 121). Zach tells lily of his dreams of becoming a lawyer. Before, she had grown used to the laws and the stereotypical roles of different races and social classes. Now she has been introduced with African Americans who dared to dream beyond what their stereotypical role is. Lily is surprised by the realization that people can go above their social classes to achieve their dreams. The civil rights act was barely being enforced, and before then it was never spoken to have African Americans do important jobs that are held by the whites. The incorporation of African Americans to the everyday White community was resisted and not welcome. Another example of prejudice in the novel was after Mary’s death, while police officer Eddie Hazlehurst was questioning Lily.He said, “I’m not saying it’s not natural, you shouldn’t be… well, lowering yourself,” (Kidd 198). It wasn’t recognized that African Americans had the same intellectual possibilities as white people. The officer says that Lily shouldn’t be residing with black people. On another level, Lily must personally navigate the delicacy of the racial difference between herself and the African-Americans she comes to love in Tiburon. White people criticize Lily for living with the black women, who treat her better than anyone else ever has. Lily develops romantic feelings for Zach, who tells her that he could get killed for even looking at a white girl. Finally, for the first time Lily experiences what it is like to be judged based solely on her skin color when June complains to August that she does not want Lily in the house because she is white.

Motherhood is also closely tied to love in the novel. Lily’s spiritual quest throughout the book parallels and is related with the quest to find her mother. In chapter 14 August tells Lily, “You have to find a mother inside of yourself, we all do.” The inner mother is nothing other than the source of each persons strengths and power. Ones biological mother provides this but until a certain point in life you have to find it in yourself and rely on it. This happens to Lily not only does she feel Mary’s presence insecure her she also realizes she has multiple mothers. Lily is driven by her need to know about her mother so that she may learn more about herself. In seeking her mother, Lily finds mother substitutes. Rosaleen, August, and the other women step into Lily’s life and provide the mothering that she needs so desperately.The Virgin Mary demonstrate each woman’s need to be mothered. The women’s devotion to the Blessed Mother shows the power and importance of a mother in the life of a woman.

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The secret life of bees traces Lilys discovery of her own spirituality and her acceptance of it and it’s strength. “I live in a hive of darkness and you are my mother… you are the mother of thousands.” The Black Mary symbolizes a motherly figure not only for characters in the book but for thousands of people across the world that look up to you. The black Mari figure appears throughout this novel as a symbol of maternal figures. Whether it is Louise real mother or just the mother she finds throughout her journey.

The major theme of this novel is expressed in its title, which comes from a statement made by August: “Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about” (148). Throughout the novel, the reader learns how most characters are not what they seem on the surface. People’s lives are usually much more complex and complicated than they appear.Throughout the novel, Kidd builds on the hive and bees as a metaphor of life. Bees represent people working together in a society, which is represented by the hive. The beehive has been known in history to represent the soul, death, and rebirth. The hive is presided over by the queen, or mother-figure. In explaining that bees have secret lives that are not immediately perceptible, August speaks metaphorically of people. As the plot progresses, we learn that almost every character has an explanation for his or her actions that cannot be seen immediately.We know that Lily is pretending to be someone that she is not in order to find out about her mother. We learn that May is so emotional because of her twin’s suicide. August tells Lily that T. Ray was not always the cruel man he is now. He was once tender and sweet and become embittered when Deborah died. Lily also finds out that her mother was not the perfect women she imagined. Throughout this story, Lily learns people, like the bees, are often motivated by forces that cannot be understood immediately.

In conclusion, this book portrays several different themes. As lily made her way through the novel she discovered things she had never even thought about before and discovered a whole new perspective on life.

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Crucial Themes of the Book The Secret Life Of Bees. (2021, September 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 25, 2023, from
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