Secret Life of Bees Essay

In the coming-of-age story of The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd tells the story of fourteen-year-old Lily Owens. Lily lives on a peach farm in Sylvan, South Carolina, with her semi-abusive father, T. Ray, and her colored nanny, Rosaleen. Her whole existence has been formed around the indistinct memory of the day her mother died. Lily so desperately seeks redemption and truth about her mother, but gets no answers from her father.

After Rosaleen crosses three of their town’s sternest racists, Lily and Rosaleen run away to Tiburon, South Carolina- a town which holds a secret about her mother’s past. There, Lily and Rosaleen aide the Boatwright sisters in their beekeeping business and caring for the household, where Lily gains the knowledge she longed for for so long. In this moving story, Kidd addresses a powerful theme and uses rhetoric and tone to create a heart-touching tale about a young girl and her quest for deliverance. The major theme of this story is ignorance versus knowledge.

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At the beginning of the story, Lily is ignorant about her family, her past, and the potential of life beyond her hometown of Sylvan, South Carolina, but she does not realize that gaining knowledge is sometimes hidden for a reason and can bring great sorrow. She is a young girl who believes she will never amount to much, and experiences routinely abuse from her cruel father. But she has an incessant thirst for knowledge about her world and her past, and an utmost desire for understanding about her mother.

All Lily knows about her mother’s life is what happened the day she died. As time progresses, her father reveals to her that her mother had left them both, which greatly upsets Lily and angers her deeply. So, when the opportunity presents itself, Lily flees to Tiburon in hopes of learning more about her mother. Yet, when she gains said knowledge, and learns that her mother had, indeed, left her and her father, it is potentially more than she can handle, and is bothered by the load that comes with it.

Lily is overcome with anger, disappointment, and sorrow. She is also relentlessly taunted by the ignorance of what her father feels about the situation at hand, and hopes that he misses her and rues having treated her with such cruelty, but upon calling T. Ray, Lily discovers that he has not felt sorry at all, does not miss her, but is just frustrated and angry. But the theme is not just expressed through Lily’s character. May takes in knowledge in an unusual way. She takes the pain that comes with knowledge and feels it as if it were her own.

Therefore, when Zach goes to jail, the others try to hide it from her. But when she does find out, she is terribly hurt that the others tried to keep her ignorant, and combined with the pain from the situation, it all becomes too much and she kills herself. It is also expressed through Zach’s character. He is ignorant to the concept of injustice until the incident for which he is arrested, and when he experiences it, he becomes enraged and gains a thirst for equality. He then devotes his time to civil rights and similar issues.

Rhetorically, Monk uses rhetorical devices such as onomatopoeias, similes, and symbols. One example of onomatopoeia is on page 1, when she writes “…making the propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin. ” A second use of onomatopoeia occurs on page 168 when she writes “…and splat! we were hit full in the chest with ice-cold water. ” The use of simile occurs on page 79 when she says “Twice she disappeared in the fogged billows, then gradually reemerged like a dream rising up from the bottom of the night. and again on page 119 when she writes “…till my hands turned stiff as corn husk from detergent. ” The use of symbols in this book is very common. For example, the bee hive and bees are used as a representation of life- the bees represent members of a family working together to function normally. The hive is controlled by the queen bee, or mother-like figure. Auspiciously, Lily learns the queen can be replaced.

August shows Lily that the bees get confused if the queen bee dies or disappears, but if a new queen bee is placed in the hive, everything is okay. Symbolism is used again when Lily is given a room in the Boatwright house. Her new room is a symbol of her new life. It is filled with things from all the women who love her (as well as new things. ) Her room is given the “motherly touch” of the Boatwrights and Rosaleen. Beside her bed, she keeps a photo of her mother feeding her, which shows she chooses to remember her mother as loving her.

All of these things are symbolic of all the things her new life is comprised of, and show her she is surrounded by love and has a fresh start filled with promise and potential. The tone of this book is a serious one of inspiration. It is serious because the story withholds a series of somber occurrences: verbal/physical abuse, racial discrimination, death, and violence. It is inspirational because the author adds humor to weighty moments and gives the characters desire to conquer obstacles and overcome the somberness, and- for the most part- each has a positive result.

This story shows how community, love, faith, and friendship can help anyone survive anything life throws at them. So, in short, The Secret Life of Bees is Sue Monk Kidd’s use of a powerful theme, clever rhetoric, and a seriously inspirational tone to create a moving tale of a young girl’s coming-of-age due to her quest for knowledge of her troubled past and her mother’s life. It is a true literary art and a story to be passed down for generations to come.


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