Explain Lily's quest to find out about her mother in "The Secret Life of Bees".  

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slchanmo1885 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lily has lived her life never knowing her mother or having a motherly influence. This has made her feel a huge hole in her life, not knowing or understanding what happened to her mother, and if her mother even loved her. She keeps a tin box of her mother’s possessions, and grieves by holding the objects and dreaming about her mother. Her one hope is that her mother loved her. T. Ray, however, does what he can to crush that thought, and it devastates Lily. Eventually, the search for her mother leads her to another mother figure in August and, more figuratively, in the Mary of Chains. Being loved and loving others in return eventually remedies Lily’s internal conflict.

Once Lily learns the truth about her mother from August, she could never go back,“Knowing can be a curse on a person’s life. I’d traded in a pack of lies for a pack of truth, and I didn’t know which one was heavier” (255). It is hard for Lily to know the truth, which isn’t a perfect picture. Lily’s mother had her problems, and even left Lily for a time, but the one saving grace is that Deborah did return for Lily, which allows Lily to believe that she did love her. Lily learns, with August’s help, that even though she doesn’t have a mother, she can look inside herself to find the mother inside herself. Lily feels unlovable and broken, but August tells her that the idea of Mother, Our Lady, is not a statue, she’s something that is inside every person,

“She’s something inside of you…You have to find the mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside…You don’t have to put your hand on Mary’s heart to get strength and consolation and rescue, and all the other things we need to get through life…You can place it right here on your own heart. Your own heart” (288).

Everyone has the power inside themselves to be a strong person and survive life, that love is the driving force inside your heart, that even if you don’t have children or don’t have a mother, you have the power to be your own mother or be a mother to others. It’s really all about love,

“Whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside you but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the one purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love – but to persist in love” (page 289).

Lily’s quest to find her mother results in her finding not only about her own biological mother, Deborah, but also finding other mother figures – August, the Virgin Mary, and even the strength inside of herself. 

Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lily's quest to find out about her mother is really what makes this book "take off," isn't it?  As we begin the book, we see that there is some mystery about Lily's mother, and none of the people around Lily will tell her much of anything about Deborah. All Lily knows is that she is responsible for her mother's death.

Now, imagine what it would be like to not know anything about your mother except that you had killed her.  Wouldn't you want to know what kind of person she was, what kind of songs she sang to you, what kind of clothes she wore? Lily is like everyone else in the world, needing a mother's love, and her quest is really to rediscover her mother's love. 

Of course, no matter what Lily discovers in the story, her mother will still be gone.  So another aspect of Lily's quest is to find someone else to mother her. Rosaleen tries to do this, and then, as they go on their journey together, they both discover August, who seems pretty good at mothering everyone. The queen bee acts a symbol of the mother we all need, and so does the "Black Mary" figurehead. 

There is so much to say about this quest, and I know there are many sections in the book that you can use to support some good ideas on this subject. 

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The Secret Life of Bees

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