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The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

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How did May die in the Secret Life of Bees?

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May Boatwright commits suicide by drowning. Though it comes as something of a shock, May's death is hardly a surprise. On the basis of the available evidence, it would seem that she was suffering from depression. Although May's family were always very sensitive to her condition, and always tried to create the best possible environment for her, there would always be a limit as to how much she could cope with the world and all its ups and downs. Sadly for May, the arrest of Zach for a crime he didn't commit is just too much for her, and pushes her over the edge.

There's something deeply symbolic in the manner of May's death. She weighs herself down with a heavy rock just as the world itself always weighed heavily upon her shoulders. There's also something ironic about someone with the name of Boatwright committing suicide by drowning. A boatwright is someone who builds boats, which are of course used to navigate rivers, along with other bodies of water. Despite being a Boatwright, May could never successfully navigate the choppy, turbulent waters of life.

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May drowns herself by weighing herself down with a stone.  Since the terrible death of her twin, she has had a difficult time dealing with the sorrows of the world. She had strategies to deal with her tendency to take on the world's sadness, for example, singing, and placing "messages" at her Wailing Wall. But when Zeke is imprisoned, it finally becomes too much for her. Many readers guess that she will kill herself before the event actually occurs.  You might want to look through the book to see what kinds of foreshadowing the author creates.  She is so tender-heartened, it seems impossible that she can survive the turmoil of the South in the Sixties.

Interestingly, a famous author, Virginia Wolfe, who probably suffered from bi-polar disorder, did commit suicide in a similar way.  She weighed her pockets down with stones and walked into the river.  This event was a rather famous literary suicide, and it seems likely that Sue Monk Kidd was thinking about Wolfe when she wrote about May's suicide. 

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