The Secret Life of Bees takes place around 1964, a time of strong racism as the African-Americans fight for civil rights. The story begins in Sylvan, South Carolina where Lily lives with her father. However, after Lily decides she has had enough of T-Ray, her father, she runs away to a town by the name of Tiburon, also in South Carolina.
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The story is written in a serious mood as it includes many serious moments such as verbal and physical abuse from a father, the death of a loved one, a run-away girl, racism, violence, love, and discovering that one’s mother walked out on her. The story is also inspirational because it proves that faith and friendships can help one survive any obstacle that is in their way.
The Secret Life of Bees has eight main characters: Lily, T-Ray, Deborah, May, June, August, Rosaleen, and Zach.
Lily Melissa Owens is the narrator of the story. She is a white, fourteen year old girl with a late deceased mother and an abusive father who loves to write. After hearing from her father that her mother left them, she decides to run away in denial. She takes Rosaleen, her black housekeeper, with her and arrives in Tiburon where they stay with the Boatwright sisters.
Terrence Ray Owens is Lily’s father. He used to be a brave man in love with Deborah, but people can change and T-Ray is a perfect example of that. He was once sweet, but now is a mean, abusive, unloving man and an even worse father. He doesn’t even let Lily call him “dad” or “daddy,” instead she must call his T-Ray. Maybe he just lets out his anger from the death of Deborah toward Lily. Either way with his constant verbal abuse to Lily, he drives her to run away.
Rosaleen Daise is the Owens’ African-American housekeeper with a love for Lily. She is very rebellious and refuses to be abused which winds up getting her arrested. Lily breaks her out of jail so they can run away. They stay at the Boatwrights’ house where Rosaleen befriends May and fits right in. She encourages Lily to tell August the truth (they ran away) rather than her made-up story. Rosaleen is basically the closest thing to a mother Lily has.
Deborah Fontanel Owens is Lily’s mother. She passed away when Lily was only four. Lily encountered the situation however her memory of it is distorted. Deborah gave birth to Lily 7 months into her marriage with T-Ray. She was so proud at first but began to feel depressed over life. She had a nervous breakdown, but at the time no one knew. She needed to get away so she moved in with the Boatwrights for a while. Later on, she came back for Lily which led to a heated argument with T-Ray and resulted in an accident with a gun. Deborah Owens was dead at the spot. Lily really doesn’t remember her mother and has confused feelings about her, but it is okay because she has Rosaleen, May, June, and August to act as her maternal figures.
August Boatwright is the owner of the Black Madonna Honey C0ompany. She is an African-American lady raised in the great state of Virginia. August was the Fontanel’s housekeeper for a while, but is now just working for her honey business. August has a true love for bees, love, and the greatest gift of all: life. She offers her advice whenever possible and enjoys helping others. August, just like Rosaleen, steps in as Lily’s motherly figure.
May Boatwright, sister of June and August, had a twin, April. May always duplicated all of April’s symptoms as children. When April had an upset stomach, so did May. When April got a black eye, so did May. However, April suffered from harsh depression resulting in suicide at the age of fifteen. Thankfully, May did not repeat that horrid event as a child too. May felt great sadness in others problems and great anger in others frustrations. She built a wailing wall to help her but it could not fix the problem, only aid in the ridding of it. She eventually killed herself as well as April.
June Boatwright was August and May’s sister and is a former teacher. She, along with her two sisters, belongs to a group called the Daughters of Mary. June plays the cello in church and plays it also to comfort people in their sorrows. At first, June did not like Lily, but eventually came to love her. June also loves Neil, and Neil loves her back. Neil continuously proposes to June, but is rejected time after time. Left at the alter by her first fiancée, she is nervous about marrying Neil. After May’s death, however, June comes to her senses and happily marries Neil.
Zach Taylor is an assistant to August in farming the bees. Zach is very intelligent and has a talent in throwing around the old pigskin. His dream, however, is to become a very successful lawyer. Impossible as a black boy, some would say. Zach, though, thinks of it as a realistic goal and wants to prove those people wrong. Zach quickly befriends Lily and the two fall in love soon enough. One day, Zach is accused of a crime he did not commit and is taken off to jail. He becomes irritated and annoyed with the current civil rights so he commits the rest of his life to changing the world. His first step? Enrolling in an all-white school.
Willifred Merchant is a secondary character in this book. She is an author famous for her novels about the deciduous trees in South Carolina. One day out of the year is dedicated to her.
Lily Owens leads a miserable life with T-Ray, her abusive father, in Sylvan, South Carolina. Her mother, Deborah, died in an accident with a gun during an argument with T-Ray. Lily is told by her father it was Deborah’s fault, but Lily thinks it is her own fault.
Lily is verbally and physically abused day in and day out. She is taken to jail one day with Rosaleen, her housekeeper. After being bailed out by T-Ray, she goes back to break Rosaleen out of jail whom T-Ray left there. Lily and Rosaleen then run away to Tiburon, South Carolina where they stay with the Boatwright sisters on their honey farm. The two work on the Boatwright’s farm and becomes great friends with them. They go through their ups and downs, experience a friend’s death, a friend’s marriage, uncover truths about family, discover their true selves, and more.
The climax of the story is a couple of events. First, it is Zach being taken off to jail for a crime he did not commit. It challenged Lily and his relationship. Second, May commits suicide and the two other Boatwright sisters mourn over their loss. Third, Lily confesses the truth about her identity, her past, and why and how they came to Tiburon.
The falling action of the story is when T-Ray comes for Lily and Lily begs him that she can stay. She is eventually allowed to stay with the Boatwrights for the good of both Lily and T-Ray after August persuaded him. Lily asks T-Ray who shot Deborah and T-Ray seriously answers her and tells Lily it was her who shot Deborah. The fact Lily asked this question showed she was prepared for any answer, including that one.
The resolution of the story is Lily is set free to start a fresh life. Discovering the truth about Deborah walking out and Lily killing her allows Lily to now forgive herself. She is freed from T-Ray and will now experience living in a true family that loves her. She may have lost her real Queen Bee, her mother, and has been senselessly swarming, but now she has found new Queens, the sisters, Rosaleen, and Mary.
I think one of the major themes in The Secret Life of Bees is “secret lives” which is expressed in the title. On page 148, August states, “Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about.” I believe this is a metaphor as the hive represents society and the bees represent human beings. As the book goes on, we read more about the characters in the story and realize that voluminous characters are not who they appear to be. This is what August means when she talks about the bees secret lives: the lives of people are much more complex than they appear to be to others.
Lily pretends to be someone she is not to understand more about her mother. Eventually she confesses and reveals her true identity. This is a worthy example of people appearing to be someone they are not. Another illustration of this metaphor is Deborah. Lily envisions her mother as a perfect woman but she soon discovers that she was wrong.
The internal conflict of the story is Lily wrestling with her lack of a mother. She wants her mother to be with her so badly, but she cannot be because she is dead. Lily has many problems which most girls would just go to their mother to help solve, but Lily does not have that advantage, unfortunately.
The external conflict of the story is racism. Rosaleen experienced racism in the beginning of the book when she was taken off to jail. Zach also faced racial discrimination when he was arrested for a crime he did not commit. Racism is a huge conflict in this story.
On page 121, Zach exclaims to Lily, “You gotta imagine what’s never been.” I found this quote very inspirational and very original. It’s telling you that you have to think outside of the world you know. You have to think about things you have never experienced before and use your imagination. I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up yet. My strongest talent is math, and I love math, but I also love sports and would like to have a job in sports. I always dreamed of being a sports journalist because of my love for writing and broadcasting, but I am still exploring my options. I do not think there is a job in sports that intensely involves math other than maybe a statistician. However, as Zach put it, “You gotta imagine what’s never been.” He has inspired me because even if there isn’t a job in sports that also includes mathematics, I’ll imagine what’s never been and maybe I’ll be the first with that kind of job!
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August says on page 97, “Our mother said she was like Mary, with her heart on the outside of her chest.” I had a hard time describing May in the characters section of this book report. She was one of a kind and there were scarce words to describe her. However, this quote from August is the perfect label for her. She had her heart on the outside of her chest, just as Mary, the Mother of God did.
Kudzu: a fast-growing Chinese and Japanese climbing vine
Cranny: a small, narrow opening in a wall, rock, etc.
Amber: a pale yellow, sometimes reddish or brownish, fossil resin of vegetable origin, translucent, brittle, and capable of gaining a negative electrical charge by friction and of being an excellent insulator
Sauntered: to walk with a leisurely gait; to stroll properly
Cowlick: a tuft of hair that grows in a different direction from that of the hair
Parsonage: the residence of a member of the clergy as provided by the parish or church
Sweltering: expressively hot
Welt: a bump on the skin caused by a whip, scratch or blow
Gouge: to roughly cut out
This story relates to the world today because in both time eras, child abuse was an issue. The world really hasn’t changed much. The media today is the reason we think it has gotten worse. The media focuses on it, grabs every story, and proclaims it to all of the country. Back then, there was child abuse it’s just it wasn’t as shared and on the news as much. The world is still the same world it was 50 years ago, except now everyone knows everything that goes on all the time.
A personal connection to the book is Lily’s and my love of writing. We both write all the time, weather it helps us feel better, or is just for entertainment. Writing is an activity we share and love. This is how I connected to the book.
I would ask Sue Monk Kidd, “If you were told to rewrite the entire book, would you change anything?” I would ask this because a lot of times when I write something, I often want to change it. A piece of writing can always be made better. I would like to know if a professional feels the same way and how confident they are in their work.
I would rate this book a four out of ten. I did not like this book and found it quite boring. It takes place in 1964, and I do not like books that date that far back. I like books set in a more modern era. This topic and genre does not thoroughly excite me. To add to this, there wasn’t really anything I could relate to. I didn’t think it was very well written and I did not appreciate the style of writing. I could not get into the book at all. I do think, however, the overall metaphor was very clever, we may think we know someone, but chances are they are much more complex than they appear.
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