Discuss the characters in The Secret Life of Bees and their relationship to each other.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The primary relationships between the characters in the novel are ones of interdependence and support to one another.  The metaphor of the bee hive is an appropriate one here.  The women in the novel are linked to one another by how they find purpose in Tiburon.  This becomes the critical aspect of the characterizations in the novel and their relationship to one another.

Lily comes to Tiburon as one who seeks to find answers to the issues that plague her.  Within this construction is the reality of guilt over her mother's death and her own struggle in coming to terms with her own identity, Lily forges relationships with the other women in Tiburon out of the sense of community and solidarity.  This can be seen in the relationship with August, the "Queen Bee" who provides a sense of structure to the world in which the women live.  August looks out for Lily by nurturing her and helping her find a voice that has been taken away from the harsh conditions of being in the world. The same strength that August provides Lily is also seen in how the women support June in trying to take a chance with Neil, and with May, who lives in constant pain and suffering regarding the world that surrounds her.  In Rosaleen's primary motivation to gain political power and use that to vote for Johnson, one sees how the relationship between the characters is one of strength and support.  

These characterizations reflect how individuals who are hurt or wounded can turn to one another as a source of strength. The relationship between the primary women characters in the novel show how individuals can find solidarity and community, even in the most disparate of circumstances and conditions These characters exemplify how individual voice does not have to be sacrificed even during the most painful moments of life. The relationship that exists between them is one in which support and loyalty supersede the painful experiences in consciousness.  It is here where the novel's characters illuminate discussion.  The women in the novel who converge in Tiburon clearly reflect how individuals do not have to assume the form of the world around them. Rather, they can find elements within their world that help them avoid taking the form of the world around them.  It is in this regard where the characters in the novel possess a specific and defined relationship to one another.

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steamgirl | Student, College Junior | (Level 1) Honors

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"I go back to that one moment when I stood in the driveway with small rocks and clumps of dirt around my feet and looked back at the porch. And there they were. All these mothers. I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shinning over me." The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd page 302.

Lily starts out craving her mother or any kind of motherly affection. Because of the strained relationship with her father, she runs off with the only female care taker she has ever known, and breaking her out of jail in the process. Lily follows small clues of where her mother might have been, grasping at any semblance of information about her, and, as Lily hopes, to consequently find reason to believe that she was loved and not abandoned.

In doing so, Lily meets and ends up working and staying with three old friends of her mother's, though she doesn't know this from the beginning. They support and guide her through her inner turmoil, her feelings of abandonment and longing for love, from both of her parents.

By the end, Lily realizes that she has all the love and affection she could possible need from the women she had met following her mother's trail. She found guidance, affection, understanding and love from all of them and eventually learned to love, forgive and support herself. 

These women are like the bees, caring, nurturing and supporting one another in times of need, working together for the greater good and peace.

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