Another way of saying “universality” is “applicable” or “relatable.” The question could be asked in this way, “What makes this book applicable and relatable to many readers?” In other words, even though the reader may not have much in common with Lily or the other characters, how come readers still connect to the ideas in this book?
Readers connect to the text because of themes that apply to many readers’ lives, regardless of race or age or gender. Lily is lost in many ways, never having known her mother and not having a very emotionally present father. Partly because of these factors, Lily questions who she is and blames herself for many things, believing she is a bad person. This theme of self discovery and questioning is something that many people go through in life. Most people ask themselves, “who am I?” and “What do I want to do with my life?” Lily is asking herself these questions constantly throughout the novel. She is also searching for a place to belong. Like many adolescents, Lily often feels awkward and unsure of herself. And like many adolescents, she is looking for people she feels understand and accept her. She also experiences a crush on a boy, and admiration for older female figures, all of which most people experience in life. There is also an idea of family that people can connect to in the novel. Lily is looking for a family, and finds one in the Boatwright sisters and Rosaleen. Even though it is an unconventional family, they support each other and love one another. Most families are not the typical nuclear family with father, mother, and two children anymore, and readers can identify with having a family that is not traditional. Regardless of how a family is constructed, love is the most important factor, and Lily learns this. All of these are reasons why readers can connect to this book and find the themes universal.
Universality means the same thing as universal, so ask yourself what is universal about Secret Life of Bees and more specifically, what is universal about Lily Owens’s conflict. This is ultimately a coming of age story where Lily searches for her identity by learning about her mother and learning the truth about her past. She feels misunderstood and lacks something that makes her life complete—a feminine influence.
Most people go through a period of figuring out who they are as they mature into adults. Most, at some point, feel misunderstood and seek to fulfill a missing part of his or her life.