Free Study Guide for The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd|
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This novel treats the contentious issue of race in the 1960’s 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 man’s 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.
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 don’t know a thing about life.” Here, we see how Lily’s life has been profoundly affected by her mother’s death. This statement suggests that living with someone else’s death can be more painful than dying. In this case, Deborah’s death has given way to Lily’s miserable life.
However, death also can be a positive force in the lives of the living that remain. Following May’s 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 May’s death propels June to marry Neil, thus establishing their new life together. The second time is when Lily finally reconciles with her mother’s 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. Lily’s life leads to Deborah’s 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 Deborah’s
literal death when Lily accidentally drops the gun and Deborah is hit
with a bullet.
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.
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TheBestNotes.com Staff. "TheBestNotes on The Secret Life of Bees".
. 09 May 2017