In The Secret Life of Bees, how does May's death affect the sisters and Lily and Rosaleen. What, if anything, good comes out of it? Do you think that suicide is ever justified?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Suicide is a devastating event and is particularly difficult to accept for those who live with the feelings of loss and the emotions that accompany it including anger, depression and disbelief. Guilt is often accompanied by an unshakable numbness that prevents acceptance and so it is easy to judge when someone takes their own life as it is essentially one of the most potentially selfish acts. In The Secret Life of Bees, this is one of the reasons why May never comes to terms with April's death. Being her twin sister would also have intensified the feelings. However, it is not fair to judge the person who takes his or her own life and so, although the act itself is never justified, the person committing the act obviously feels that there is no other way. May, never quite coping with April's death and being particularly sensitive to the suffering of others, especially when it is undeservingly-racially-motivated, knows what it is like to be the one left behind and yet she still takes her own life.

The racially-motivated arrest of Zach, May's godson, which the sisters try to hide from her, has an enormous impact on her when she finds out anyway and the sisters, and Rosaleen and Lily, find her body in the river. Despite the terrible loss, May's suicide letter does reach out to August who interprets her words "It's your time to live. Don't mess up" as being directed at June. June is then encouraged to accept Neil's proposal, despite her fears, having been left at the altar once before. Zach, who supports the civil rights' movement, is inspired to make the most of himself and promises Lily that they will both achieve their dreams. He wants to be a lawyer more than ever, so he can fight against racial prejudice. He does promise Lily that he will not change in his fight against racism. He will be instrumental in the actions taken to integrate the high school after deciding to attend the "white" school.

May's death raises other important issues and eventually Lily finds out the truth about her mother and understands her connection with August. Lily also maintains May's tradition and prays in front of the wall. She is beginning to learn to forgive and move forward and feels accepted despite her white skin. Rosaleen eventually registers to vote, moving forward after her own racially-motivated suffering.

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The Secret Life of Bees

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