What is the internal and external conflict in "The Secret Life of Bees?"

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ladyvols1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Internal conflict is very evident in Lily throughout the novel.  She spends the entire novel fighting within herself over the loss of her mother.  She knows that she was some how responsible for her mother's death but she has blocked the details.  It all happened when she was so young that she doesn't remember the details.  Lily struggles to be accepted by someone.  She feels unworthy of love and kindness, but she doesn't understand why TRay treats her so badly.  Lilly struggles internally to grow and mature enough to accept what has happened to her throughout her life.  May also suffers from internal conflict.  She is depressed and feels somehow guilty over the death of her twin, but the fact that she still lives.  She feels everything deeply and eventually fails to conquer her internal conflict and May drowns herself by placing a rock on top of her chest in the river.   The External conflict centers around race relationships.  During this time in North Carolina was not a good time to be African American.  The Civil Right's Bill had just been signed and Rosaleen tries to register to vote.  She is harassed and ends up getting arrested and beaten for her desire to vote.  There is also external conflict between TRay and Lily.  Several times in the novel we learn that TRay is a mean, vindictive man who punishes Lily.  At the end of the novel he nearly kills her with a knife because she looks like her mother.

steamgirl | Student

The internal conflict is Lily having to forgive herself for accidentally murdering her mother, and forgiving her mother for leaving her there with her father. Lily doesn't know how to do this, or isn't ready, until she tells August who she really is and finally begins the healing process. Through most of the book, Lily is holding on to an ideal that her mother loved her more than anything, that she would never have left her, that she didn't shoot her mother, that she and Rosaleen would never have to be found in Tiburon and return to their old lives, and that deep down her father still loves her. Lily struggles to hold on to this dream for the whole summer, and when she lets go, she realizes that she is happier without it.

"[Rosaleen] said I was living in a dream world. 'Dream world' became her favorite two words. It was living in a dream world to pretend we had a regular life when there was a manhunt going on, to think we could stay here forever, to believe I would find out anything worth knowing about my mother. Every time I shot back, What's wrong with living in a dream world? And she'd say, You have to wake up.The Secret Life of Bees Sue Monk Kidd page 121.

The external conflicts were racism: Rosaleen being beaten and arrested, Zach being arrested and not being aloud to pursue his dream as a lawyer, and Zach and Lily not being aloud to be together. This also minutely causes a problem between Lily and June, since August had worked as a house-maid for Lily's mother which upset June greatly, which caused tension between her and Lily. The trauma of Lily's mother leaving caused problems between Lily and her father that often became abusive. 

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The Secret Life of Bees

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