How does faith tie into the book Bee Season? What does Bee Season say of faith as a journey?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Well, faith ties into Bee Season in that the family (at least at the beginning when they are together) are a Jewish family.  It is this Jewish faith that seems to cause the conflict in the story, in a sense.  Further, there are aspects of the Jewish faith that are very misleading to the characters.  (Perhaps the best example is Miriam who goes crazy as a result of a misinterpretation.)  In fact, the Jewish faith ties in to each of the four main characters.

Let's look at husband and wife first: Saul and Miriam.  On the outside they are Jewish scholar/cantor and successful lawyer, but on the inside they are lost.  Saul has searched his entire life.  In fact, he tries drugs first.  He is now "on" Judaism and will later try the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.  In my opinion, Saul's issue is his desire to always try to have the ultimate experience, even when it comes to his daughter's spelling bee study:

There are people who believe that letters are an expression of a very special primal energy and when they combine to make words, they hold all the secrets to the universe.

As a result, Saul leads absolutely everyone in his family astray, even his wife.  Miriam actually goes insane as a result of a teaching from Saul on the "tikkun olam" and twists the idea into the acceptance of stealing in order to change the world.  She is eventually imprisoned and committed, forcing Saul to admit his misguidance.

The two children, Aaron and Eliza, are also greatly affected by faith (and especially by their father).  They covet their father's attention.  While Aaron is the focus of his dad's attention, the Jewish faith seems to be the ultimate one; however, as soon as the dad switches to Eliza as a focus, he flits from religion to religion trying to find his place.  Eliza, of course, is first neglected by her father and then focused upon after she wins the spelling bee.  She is taught about the concept of shefa which can unify one with the divine, and unfortunately really misunderstands.  This leads to a terrifying experience where Eliza too becomes disgusted with her religion.  She even purposely loses a spelling bee as a result.

She has often felt that her outsides were too dull for her insides, that deep within her there was something better than what everyone else could see.

What is important to realize about the faith and the journeys of faith of the characters in Bee Season is that they end with disillusionment.  They are still ON the journey of faith.  We don't know if they will reach the Truth.  The above quote, in my opinion, shows that it is Eliza who has the most potential for faith in the family still.  She is just beginning her journey, and has further to go.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The book Bee Season says just that: that faith is a journey and we are all on a different one.  It is important to note, however, that the word "faith" here is misleading.  Although I assume you mean a religious faith, this may not be the case.  You could be speaking of faith in oneself!  If that is the case, feel free to repost your question.  However, in regard to a religious faith journey, this is shown especially through the four characters of Saul, Aaron, Eliza, and Miriam.

Saul has already spent his life searching. He originally tried to find the truth of faith through drugs and then through the study of Judaism.  In this latter faith, Saul becomes a great scholar (or so he thinks).  Unfortunately he leads his son astray first through favoritism and then by neglect, leads his daughter astray through favoritism and misrepresentation of shefa, and leads his wife astray through misrepresentation of tikkun olam.

There are people who believe that letters are an expression of a very special primal energy and when they combine to make words, they hold all the secrets to the universe.

Unfortunately, he does not know enough to give proper guidance.  His journey continues in his future search for faith in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ironically the same place where his son secretly finds solace).

Saul's son, Aaron, is the first born and originally the leader of the family in a traditional Jewish style and, as such, his journey is still continuing as well.  Aaron lives true to his name (a leader during the time of Moses) at the beginning of the book where his father teaches him guitar and many Hebrew words from the Torah.  Because of his father's neglect when he begins only to teach Eliza, Aaron tries Christianity and then Buddhism and then falls off the path completely and into the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.  Again, due to Aaron's youth, no reader can say that his journey ends here.

Saul's daughter, Eliza, has always felt neglected due to the focus on her older brother, Aaron.  However, when she wins the spelling bee, Saul switches his focus to Eliza and begins to prep Eliza for the regional, state, and national bee. 

She has often felt that her outsides were too dull for her insides, that deep within her there was something better than what everyone else could see.

Eliza loves the attention and, as such, becomes more interested in her Jewish faith.  Specifically, she becomes interested in achieving "shefa," which is the possibility of uniting with the divine.  Saul seems to imply she can do this through the spelling bee and through his help.  It is Saul's misguidance that disenfranchises Eliza.  She isn't ready for a full shefa experience and is terrified.  Connecting this to her spelling success and watching her supposedly learned father lose his religion, she purposely loses the bee.  Eliza, then, continues her faith journey in a state of disillusionment just like the others.

Saul's wife, Miriam, is VERY interesting because Saul's misguidance of her indirectly causes her to go insane.  Where Eliza misunderstands the concept of shefa, Miriam misunderstands the concept of "tikkun olam" and believes she can "fix the world" through her kleptomania! 

What is interesting about these faith journeys is they all continue with the characters in a state of disillusionment.  None of them have found the truth.  Unfortunately, it is the parents that have to guide the children.  Both of these parents are in serious error, even at the end of the book, and therefore we can conclude that the journey is not over; however, we cannot say anyone in this family will end up with a firm faith of any kind.

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