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The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

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Examples of injustice and prejudice in The Secret Life of Bees

Summary:

Examples of injustice and prejudice in The Secret Life of Bees include the racial discrimination faced by African American characters, such as Rosaleen's arrest and beating for attempting to vote. Additionally, the societal norms in the 1960s South create environments of systemic racism and segregation, impacting the lives of the characters throughout the novel.

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What are some examples of injustice in The Secret Life of Bees?

There are several examples of injustice in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel The Secret Life of Bees. A notable example is the scene in which Rosaleen enters the white church with Lily. The church does not usually allow people of color, and Lily thinks about how shocking Rosaleen's presence must be to everyone there. She recalls that:

Every time a rumor got going about a group of Negroes coming to worship with us on Sunday morning, the deacons stood locked-arms across the church steps to turn them away.

The enforced racial segregation at this church is a blatant example of how African Americans are treated unfairly. Similarly, when Rosaleen and Lily are arrested, their different experiences bring attention to racial injustice in the criminal justice system. Lily is released but Rosaleen is not and ends up badly beaten.

Zach’s experiences also reveal the many forms of racial injustice. Like Rosaleen, he also has a difficult time with the criminal justice system because of the color of his skin. In addition, recall how he attends the all-white high school in the end of the book. Lily describes how white students ball up notebook paper and throw it at him like it is their pastime. Zach’s adolescent years are more difficult because of racial injustice in his society.

Also, recall how May’s twin April struggled with depression. She had a terrible encounter with a racist store owner that changed her attitude on life. Afterward, her father told her “Nothing’s fair in this world. You might as well get that straight right now,” and August says that this realization made April “deflated about life.” The way this realization about injustice hurt April and how her death hurt May shows how extremely painful racial injustice can be.

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Can you cite three instances of prejudice in The Secret Life of Bees?

The Secret Life of Bees is filled with examples of prejudice in thought and deed.  It is difficult to find a chapter in which there is not some evidence of how prejudiced the time and place of this book is. 

One of the most striking incidents is in Chapter 2, when Lily and Rosaleen are taken to the police station, and the three card-playing men follow them to the police station.  One of the three men attacks Rosaleen with a flashlight, "smashing it into Rosaleen's forehead" (35).  The police officer, Gaston, does nothing to stop this, and clearly, this is something that would not have happened had Rosaleen been white.

A second "behavior" that strongly points up the prejudice of the times occurs in Chapter 2, when we are shown that Sylvan Memorial Hospital has "one wing for whites and one for blacks" (45).  This was the norm in the south in those days, with not only segregated hospitals, but also separate bathrooms and even drinking fountains. 

In Chapter 3, when Lily and Rosaleen get to the Frogmore Stew General Store, Lily and Rosaleen cannot go in the store together because Rosaleen is black.  She wants some snuff, but Lily must purchase it for her.  It is clear that black patrons may not shop there. 

Other examples include the story of May, June's attitude toward white people, and what happens to Zach, Lily's new friend.  It is important to understand what those times were like, so we can all make sure this never happens again. 

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