Lily learns about the importance of family and that it's not necessarily limited to blood. How does Lily learn that family does not have to be fulfilled in this traditional way?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The family theme in this novel is certainly multifaceted. It is introduced at the very beginning of the story when we learn that Lily's mother is dead. "My mother died when I was four years old" (2). Further, it is obvious she has a difficult and distant relationship with her father, evidenced by the fact that she calls him "T Ray" and predicts he will forget her birthday. Immediately, Lily's need for family is presented as a conflict. Therefore, it is natural to assume that the story will focus on resolving this conflict in some way.

The first step to resolution is Lily's relationship with Rosaleen, a black woman who worked for Lily's father as a peach picker. Later, Rosaleen and Lily both find family at the home of August Boatwright, another black woman living in a very nontraditional and eclectic home. As August and the other women in her home take in this young girl, they begin to love her and teach her things like mothers and sisters do. Lily finally understands the kind of acceptance and belonging she has always been missing in life.

This is more than a "nontraditional" family for Lily. Because the book takes place in South Carolina in the 1960s, these relationships could be considered socially inappropriate and unacceptable. These are women who are living independently. Further, they are black. And finally, they take in a white girl and treat her like one of themselves. In every way, society would have frowned on such a situation. But in the end, Lily makes the choice to stay. We know that her family conflict has been resolved when she says, "And there they were. All these mothers. I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shining over me" (302).

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The Secret Life of Bees

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