Susan Monk Kidd’s main emphasis in her writings is women who take self-discovery journeys. These journeys take place after removing themselves from “problematic” relationships with men. Throughout Kidd’s novels, the female characters discover secrets about loved ones and become more familiar with themselves, (“Sue Monk Kidd”).
The Secret Life of Bees started off as a short story written after Kidd went back to college. It was published in the University of Tulsa’s Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry.
The short stories received awards like the Katherine Anne Porter Prize and were in the 1994 edition of Best American Short Stories, (“Sue Monk Kidd”). “The short story’s success prompted Kidd to expand the work into her first novel. The Secret Life of Bees became a bestseller and won the SEBA Book of the Year Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction Award; it was nominated for an international IMPAC Dublin Literary Award as well as the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction,” (“Sue Monk Kidd”). Using the theme of feminine quest for self identity is important to Kidd.
In The Secret Life of Bees, Kidd gives Lily Owens, the main character, four mothers, when really; Lily is only looking for one mother. August, June, and May Boatwright along with Rosaleen all act as her mother. This is important because it helps Lily grow into a woman. In one of her most popular novels, The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd uses characterization, symbolism, and racial tensions of the time to reveal Lily’s quest of self-identity. Lily Owens travels and endures a quest for self identity throughout the novel and embraces many hardships in her life. This search takes psychological and archetypal turns as Lily confronts her own implication in her biological mother’s death.
Her own link to the mother, she never really knew, is a picture of a Black Madonna with a South Carolina town printed beneath it. Kidd ties all the frayed strands of past to present for Lily in the home of three black bee keepers-May, June, and August who have their own Black Madonna, who they declare is ‘blessed among women’(90)”, (Emanuel). Lily is blessed to have found three new mothers in South Carolina.
It is interesting how the picture of the Black Madonna led Lily to freedom from her father, because in the novel, the Black Madonna led slaves to freedom. In the beginning of the novel, Lily listens to the bees fly around her and, “[I] dug my nails into my palms till my skin had nearly turned to herringbone. A person could get stung half to death in a roomful of bees,” (Kidd 4). Lily shows her mental strength by doing what very few people could; being in a room full of bees and staying as calm as she is able.
Lily also exudes mental strength by enduring the pain of digging her nails into her palms. She is able to overcome the pain and enjoy the bees’ company and sounds. “Guided by bees and a group of women devoted to a black Madonna, 14-year old Lily Owens embarks upon a spiritual quest that carries her through the shadow of racism and her own spiritual suffering brings her to adulthood”, (Morey). The motherly help from the women in the novel lead Lily to completing her quest for self-identity. August helps Lily grow into a young woman by assisting in Lily’s quest for self identity.
August and Lily become good friends, who depend upon each other. Lily depends on August for food and shelter, and August depends on Lily to help her with the bees and collecting honey. August acts as a mother figure to Lily, which is important to Lily, because her journey was led by the want to find a mother, (Emanuel). While explaining the story of the Black Madonna, August, “At this point August stood up and struck the pose herself. She looked just like the statue standing there, her right arm raised and her hand clutched into a fist.
She stayed like that for a few seconds while we sat, spellbound,” (Kidd 108). August posing like the Black Madonna shows her motherly characteristics, her power and leadership, and her compassion for everyone. Since the Black Madonna represents mothers and leadership, it was important August stand exactly like her. August assisting Lily complete her quest for self identification is interesting because August helped Lily’s mother, Deborah, fulfill her quest for self-identity, leading her to return to Lily.
The symbolism in the Black Madonna is an important part of Lily’s quest for self identity. “…departs from Baptist conservatism to produce a fourteen year old heroine, Lily, who finds solace and spirituality in a black woman’s face. Set in South Carolina in the 1960’s, this novel captures the period’s racial prejudice and white patriarchy but reproduces the time’s rebellious fever as well,” (Emanuel). While telling the story of the Black Madonna, August says, “Our Lady filled their hearts with fearlessness and whispered to them plans of escape.
The bold ones fled, finding their way north, and those who didn’t lived with a raised fist in their hearts,” (Kidd 109). It is extremely important that the Black Madonna “filled their hearts with fearlessness and whispered to them plans of escape” (Kidd 109) because the Black Madonna picture led Lily to find the Boatwright sisters, who eventually, acted as mothers to Lily. When Lily found her mother’s picture of the Black Madonna, it spoke to Lily, giving her the fearlessness to run from her father, T. Ray and the plans to escape to Tiburon, South Carolina.
The Black Madonna serves as a religious mother to the women, just as the women serve as mothers to Lily and aid in her quest for self identity. The bees symbolize freedom that leads Lily’s quest for self-identity. “The way those bees flew, not even looking for a flower, just flying for the feel of the wind, split my heart down its seam,” (Kidd 1), said Lily while looking back on the bees who flew into her room. Lily wants to be free more than anything, but she does not know how to set herself free. The bees give her a sense of freedom because of their carefree flights into her room late at night.
The symbolism of the bees gives Lily the idea to escape and start her quest for self identity. Right after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racial tensions in South Carolina became more severe, which leads to Lily pursuing her quest for self-identity by helping Rosaleen escape from jail. “Despite the historic realism of the novel, there is a fairy-tale quality to the story. Three wise black women rule a magical universe of sweetness and organic communion and offer their healing to weary travelers,” (Morey). The Boatwright sisters’ kindness was extremely rare for the times.
They not only healed Rosaleen and Lily, they gave Rosaleen and Lily an opportunity to start fresh. When walking to sign up to vote, Rosaleen runs into the towns extremely racist men and signs her name in snuff juice on their feet. After witnessing this, Lily thought, “When they looked up, I watched their faces go from surprise, to anger, then outright fury. They lunged at her, and everything started to spin,” (Kidd 32). Even though Rosaleen is seriously hurt, Rosaleen’s rebellion against the racist men led to Lily’s ability to escape from T.
Ray and start a new life. The only thing Lily can do to protect Rosaleen from the men who beat her is to help Rosaleen escape from jail. The racial tension of the time period in which Lily grew up eventually led to Lily obtaining her quest for self identity. Lily led an unusual life with the Boatwright’s that helps her complete her quest for self identity. The town’s sheriff says to Lily, “I’m just saying it’s not natural, that you shouldn’t be …well, lowering yourself,” (Kidd 198). Lily replies, “Oh,” (198). “I’m going to come back oon, and I better not find you still here,” (Kidd 198) says the sheriff, threatening Lily. Lily lives in a nonexistent 1960’s African American home. During the time period, most African Americans would not let a white girl stay with them and if a police officer saw she was living with African Americans, he would take the girl. It was abnormal for a white girl to worship a Black Madonna. Lily feels uneasy about praying to the Black Madonna when she first arrives to the house. Throughout the novel, she becomes more open to the Black Madonna because of the motherly love the statue gives off.
Lily becomes so over whelmed with the Black Madonna that she passes out in the middle of the Sunday mass at the house. Even though Lily lives in an unrealistic home during the 1960’s, the house and the women living in it help complete Lily’s quest for self identity by giving her the motherly love she never received as a child. The Secret Life of Bees, one of Sue Monk Kidd’s significant novels, Kidd uses characterization, symbolism, and racial influence of the time to expose the character’s quest of self-identity. The language is never anything short of crystalline and inspired. The plotting is subtle and careful and exquisitely executed, enabling Kidd not just to make her points about race and religion, but to tell a memorable story while so doing. The characters are loveable and deep hearted, fully dimensional, never pat. The story endures long after the book is slipped back onto the shelf,” (Kephart). Kidd expresses Lily’s journey for self-identity by using usual situations that only result in excellent ways.
Readers will be touched by Lily’s story and journey toward self-identity because the different elements Kidd uses, like the motherly love and racial tensions. “I’ll be passing it on to my middle-school daughter for it its warm invitation to think about mother love and forgiveness,” (Morey). Throughout The Secret Life of Bees, many different symbolisms and characterizations, such as racial tension and the simple freedom of flight enjoyed by bees, are used by the author to reflect the main character, Lily’s progress on her journey of self identification.
Cite this Secret Life of Bees
Secret Life of Bees. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/secret-life-of-bees-2/