In describing her hometown of Sylvan, South Carolina, Lily keeps it brief: . . . population 3,100. Peach stands and Baptist churches, that sums it up. (1.49) So, not exactly a spring break destina...
The narrator, Lily, keeps things pretty accessible. She's a fairly no-nonsense, straightforward high school student, and her language reflects those qualities. Her prose is notable for its simplici...
A Girl with a Serious Case of the Bees, er, BluesLily Owens, the book's narrator, welcomes us into her world a few days before her 14th birthday. She seems to have a vivid imagination, this Lily; w...
Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Anticipation Stage and 'Fall' into the Other WorldWriting from 1964, Lily Owens begins the novel pretty sad and lonely, yearning for her late mother (and a life that doesn't include her father's in...
Three-Act Plot Analysis
When the book opens, Lily Owens is struggling with an angry daddy and only shadowy memories of her mother (whom she, um, accidentally killed). Plus, it's her birthday, and nobody seems to care. To...
Aristaeus (10.136) Blake, William, "The Sick Rose" (13.135-137)Bronte, Charlotte, Jane Eyre (7.163)Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1.102)Hilton, James, Lost Horizon (1.97).Shakespeare, William (1.99,...
Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES BY SUE MONK KIDD
THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
The major theme of this novel is expressed in its title, which comes from a statement made by August: Most people dont have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we dont know anything about (148). Throughout the novel, the reader learns how most characters are not what they seem on the surface. Peoples 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 twins 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.
Fortunate Coincidences and Signs
Throughout the novel, Lily seeks and finds signs and is propelled by a series of fortunate coincidences. Lily frequently asks for signs and often believes things that come to her are signs. Lily believes it was a sign that her room was infested with bees and now she is at the home of a beekeeper. Lily believes it was a fortunate coincidence that Augusts mother met her father because she had a toothache. Lily believes it is a fortunate coincidence that she went to a store that sells Augusts honey, which leads her to August, the person with whom her mother stayed when she left. Lily believes the picture August gives her of Deborah feeding Lily as a child is an answer to her request for a sign that she was loved.
Each of these signs and fortunate coincidences suggest that perhaps there is some order to what seems to be a chaotic existence. This notion is affirmed by the bee hive metaphor which weaves its way throughout the story. Although the activity in bee hives--which symbolize society--appears nonsensical and disorganized, we learn the bees lead a highly organized and orderly existence.
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 Lilys life and provide the mothering that she needs so desperately.
The Black Madonna/ Virgin Mary demonstrate each womans need to be mothered. The womens devotion to the Blessed Mother shows the power and importance of a mother in the life of a woman.
This novel treats the contentious issue of race in the 1960s south as well as in the everyday relations between individuals. The plot demonstrates two encounters between whites and blacks in which the black person is treated unjustly. Rosaleen is sent to jail for defending herself and Zach goes to jail for not admitting which of his friends broke a bottle on a white mans nose.
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.
Death Gives Way to Life
Throughout the novel there is the theme of death giving way to life. The resultant life is sometimes good, but it is also sometimes bad. In the very beginning of the novel Lily tells us People who think dying is the worst thing dont know a thing about life. Here, we see how Lilys life has been profoundly affected by her mothers death. This statement suggests that living with someone elses death can be more painful than dying. In this case, Deborahs death has given way to Lilys miserable life.
However, death also can be a positive force in the lives of the living that remain. Following Mays death August tells Lily: Putting black cloths on the hives is for us. I do it to remind us that life gives way into death, and then death turns around and gives way into life.
Death as giving way to life is seen twice in this novel as a positive force. The first instance is the way that Mays death propels June to marry Neil, thus establishing their new life together. The second time is when Lily finally reconciles with her mothers death and is set free to truly begin her own life.
Life also gives way to death. Literally--everyone who is born must die. But on a symbolic level, life can kill too. May kills herself because life is too much for her to bear. When Deborah learns she is pregnant with Lily she decides to marry
T.Ray. Lilys life leads to Deborahs symbolic death on the peach farm, where she has a nervous break down because she cannot bear to live there. This new life (Lily) also leads to Deborahs literal death when Lily accidentally drops the gun and Deborah is hit with a bullet.
POINT OF VIEW
First-person, limited. The narrator of this story is Lily. We have access to her thoughts, but not to the thoughts of the other characters.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Free Study Guide-The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd-Book Summary