What lesson does Lily learn from the Black Madonna in The Secret Life of Bees?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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You might like to re-read Chapter Thirteen of this excellent coming-of-age novel, in which Lily and the Daughters all celebrate the festival of Mary by rubbing honey into the statue as a preservative. Having just found out about her mother the night before, and how she had abandoned her, Lily had also just thrown honey all over the Black Madonna by breaking jars of honey on her to express her rage. Having done this, she is able to engage in an act of restoration, as she learns that honey is actually a preservative. After her turmoil and agony, she finally is able to reach a place of contentment and peace:

We were preserving Our Lady, and I was content--for the first time since I'd learned about my mother--to be doing what I was doing.

Lily also finds that rubbing honey into the Black Madonna transforms her perspective on life, as she says when she comes to clean her hands. Instead of being a person full of violence and anger that breaks things and smashes them up, she realises through her act of rubbing honey into the Black Madonna that she can become a person who restores and preserves rather than destroys:

One by one the Daughters dipped their hands into a bucket of water and washed off the honey. I waited till the very last, wanting to keep the coating of honey on my skin for a long as I could. It was like I was wearing a pair of gloves with magic properties. Like I could preserve whatever I touched.

The Black Madonna, therefore, just like August, helps Lily to change her view of herself from somebody who is not lovable and who is an agent of violence to somebody who is lovable and who has the capability to preserve and restore, rather than destroy.


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