Main Character in Secret Life of Bees Character Analysis

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Susan Monk Kidd’s primary focus in her writing is on women who embark on journeys of self-discovery, usually after distancing themselves from problematic relationships with men. In her novels, the female characters uncover hidden truths about their loved ones and gain a deeper understanding of themselves (“Sue Monk Kidd”). The Secret Life of Bees originally began as a short story that Kidd wrote during her return to college. It was later published in the University of Tulsa’s Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry.

The short stories were awarded prizes such as the Katherine Anne Porter Prize and were included in the 1994 edition of Best American Short Stories, ( “Sue Monk Kidd”). This success with the short stories inspired Kidd to expand the material into her debut novel, The Secret Life of Bees, which quickly became a bestseller. The novel received accolades such as the SEBA Book of the Year Award and the Southeastern Library Association Fiction Award. Additionally, it was nominated for prestigious literary awards such as the international IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction, ( “Sue Monk Kidd”). Kidd emphasizes the significance of exploring the theme of a feminine journey towards self-identity.

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In “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, Lily Owens, the main character, is portrayed as having four different mother figures, despite only seeking one mother. August, June, May Boatwright, and Rosaleen all play the role of a mother to Lily, which ultimately contributes to her personal growth. Kidd’s novel explores themes of characterization, symbolism, and racial tensions during the time period to depict Lily’s journey towards self-identity. Throughout the book, Lily embarks on a quest for self-discovery, facing numerous challenges along the way. This search takes on psychological and archetypal dimensions as Lily confronts her own connection to her biological mother’s death.

Lily discovers a picture of a Black Madonna with the name of a South Carolina town beneath it, which serves as a connection to her unknown biological mother. The author, Kidd, brings together the various threads of Lily’s past and present by introducing three black beekeepers named May, June, and August who possess their own Black Madonna. These women refer to her as “blessed among women,” highlighting Lily’s fortune in finding three new mother figures in South Carolina (Emanuel, 90).

It is intriguing how the image of the Black Madonna allowed Lily to escape from her father, as the Black Madonna in the novel guided slaves to freedom. At the start of the story, Lily hears bees buzzing around her and, “[I] dug my nails into my palms until they resembled herringbone. One could easily get stung to death in a room filled with bees,” (Kidd 4). By remaining composed in a room full of bees, Lily demonstrates her mental fortitude, a feat that few people could achieve.

Lily demonstrates her mental strength by enduring the pain of digging her nails into her palms, allowing her to find solace in the presence and sounds of the bees. According to Morey, Lily, guided by bees and a group of women devoted to a black Madonna, embarks on a spiritual quest that takes her through the darkness of racism and her own spiritual struggles. This journey ultimately leads her to adulthood. Throughout the novel, the nurturing support she receives from the women, particularly August, helps Lily in her pursuit of self-discovery and identity.

August and Lily develop a strong friendship where they rely on each other. Lily relies on August for support in terms of food and shelter, while August depends on Lily’s assistance in tending to the bees and collecting honey. Additionally, August plays a crucial role as a mother figure to Lily, which is significant considering that Lily’s journey was motivated by her desire to find a maternal figure (Emanuel). During the explanation of the tale about the Black Madonna, August physically embodies the statue herself, striking a pose with her right arm raised and hand clenched into a fist.

As we sat, spellbound, she remained in that position for a few seconds,” (Kidd 108). August’s resemblance to the Black Madonna highlights her motherly traits, her authority and guidance, and her empathy towards others. By mirroring the Black Madonna, an embodiment of motherhood and leadership, it was essential that August assume the same posture. It is intriguing how August aids Lily in her journey of self-discovery, just as she had once assisted Lily’s mother, Deborah, in finding her own sense of identity, ultimately reuniting her with Lily.

The significance of the Black Madonna is a crucial aspect of Lily’s journey to discover her own identity. The story departs from Baptist conservatism to introduce Lily, a fourteen-year-old protagonist, who seeks solace and spiritual guidance through the image of a black woman. The novel takes place in 1960s South Carolina and vividly portrays the racial prejudice and male-dominated society of the time, while also capturing the spirit of rebellion that characterized the era (Emanuel). During the narration of the Black Madonna’s tale, August explains that she instilled fearlessness and offered escape plans to those who believed in her (Emanuel).

According to Kidd (109), the bold ones who fled to the north and those who stayed carried a sense of rebellion in their hearts. The Black Madonna played a crucial role in instilling fearlessness and providing escape plans for them. This is particularly significant because it was the discovery of her mother’s picture of the Black Madonna that guided Lily to the Boatwright sisters, who ultimately assumed maternal roles in her life. With the guidance of the Black Madonna, Lily found the courage to escape from her father, T. Ray, and seek refuge in Tiburon, South Carolina.

The Black Madonna acts as a maternal figure to the women, who in turn act as mother figures to Lily and assist her in her search for self-identity. The bees represent freedom, which drives Lily’s quest for self-identity. Reflecting on the bees that flew into her room, Lily exclaimed, “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). Lily desires freedom above all else, but she is unsure how to liberate herself. The bees provide her with a sense of liberation through their carefree flights into her room late at night.

The symbolism of the bees inspires Lily to break free and embark on her journey to discover herself. Following the enactment of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, racial tensions intensified in South Carolina. As a result, Lily decides to aid Rosaleen in her escape from jail as part of her pursuit for self-identity. According to Morey, although the novel maintains a historical realism, it also possesses a fairy-tale essence. The three wise black women govern a magical realm of harmony and offer their healing powers to weary travelers. The Boatwright sisters’ kindness was highly uncommon during those times.

Not only did the beekeeping sisters heal Rosaleen and Lily, but they also provided them with a chance to start anew. On their way to register for voting, Rosaleen encounters the incredibly racist men of the town and boldly signs her name in snuff juice on their feet. Witnessing this act, Lily reflects, “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). Despite Rosaleen suffering serious injuries, her defiance against the racist men ultimately allows Lily to escape from T.

Lily finds herself in a situation where she must help Rosaleen escape from jail to protect her from the abusive men. Growing up in a time of racial tension, Lily’s journey for self identity is ignited. Living with the Boatwright’s, Lily experiences an unconventional life that aids in her quest. The town’s sheriff expresses disapproval of Lily’s association with African Americans, but she remains unfazed. In the 1960s, it was unheard of for a white girl to live with African Americans, as it would result in her being taken by the police. Initially hesitant about worshiping the Black Madonna, Lily gradually embraces the statue’s motherly love throughout the novel.

Lily faints during Sunday mass at the house because she is overwhelmed by the Black Madonna. Despite living in an unconventional home in the 1960s, the house and the women who live there help Lily on her quest for self-identity by providing her with the maternal love she never experienced as a child. Sue Monk Kidd skillfully employs characterization, symbolism, and the racial climate of the time in her novel The Secret Life of Bees to explore the characters’ pursuit of self-identity. The language used is consistently clear and inspiring. The plot is nuanced and meticulously crafted, allowing Kidd to not only address themes of race and religion but also to tell a captivating story. The characters are endearing, multi-dimensional, and never one-dimensional. This story resonates long after the book has been placed back on the shelf,” (Kephart). Through relatable situations, Kidd effectively portrays Lily’s journey towards self-identity.

Readers will be moved by the narrative of Lily and her quest for self-discovery in The Secret Life of Bees because of the various literary techniques employed by Kidd, such as the portrayal of maternal love and the exploration of racial tensions. As Morey observed, the novel generates a sense of warmth and encourages contemplation on topics such as forgiveness and the importance of motherly affection. Throughout the book, Kidd utilizes symbolism, such as the freedom bees experience in flight and the depiction of racial tensions, to mirror Lily’s personal growth and her search for identity.

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Main Character in Secret Life of Bees Character Analysis. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from

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