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The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

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How would you describe Zach and Lily's relationship in The Secret Life of Bees?

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Zach and Lily are attracted to each other and have a typical fourteen year old crush type of relationship, except they struggle with the fact that they are of different races. At first, Lily meets Zach and is surprised that she is attracted to him, because she is used to thinking that black people are not attractive. She says,

“If he was shocked over me being white, I was shocked over him being handsome. At my school they made fun of colored people’s lips and noses. I myself had laughed at these jokes, hoping to fit in. Now I wished I could pen a letter to my school to be read at opening assembly that would tell them how wrong we’d all been” (pg 116).

As her attraction grows, she struggles with the thought that it is impossible to have a relationship with Zach,

“It seemed like I was now thinking of Zach forty minutes out of every hour, Zach, who was an impossibility. That’s what I told myself five hundred times: impossibility” (133).

Regardless of what Lily tells herself, she cannot stop loving Zach. And Zach is crazy about Lily as well. He seems to really understand her, and gives her a notebook to encourage her writing. Lily, in turn, supports Zach in his dream to become a lawyer, even though it will be extremely difficult for a black boy to pursue this career in the deep South. Zach is dedicated to Lily, and dedicated to changing the world. He tells Lily, “We can’t be together now, Lily, but one day, after I’ve gone away and become somebody, I’m gonna find you, and we’ll be together then” (231). Zach wants to create a world where it will be okay for a white person and a black person to love each other. He says, “We can’t think of changing our skin… Change the world – that’s how we gotta think” (pg 216). Luckily, since 1964, because of people like Zach, we now live a lot more equally. It is much more common to have interracial couples, schools and other public places are integrated, and even our President is the child of an interracial couple, showing just how far we’ve really come today. 

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Because Zach is African-American and Lilly is Caucasian, their "friendship" and eventually their love is taboo because of the time period. Keep in mind that this novel is set in the deep south, so racism runs rampant. This can easily be seen in the scenes in which Zach is beat up by the white men and the through the issues of voting and Civil Rights.

These two have a relationship that begins as a friendship that slowly blossoms into one of a more romantic nature. In today's society, interracial relationships are rather commonplace, and Zach and Lilly's relationship would not be so highly frowned upon as it is in the book.

Their relationship faces limitations set up by the setting of the book: location and year. If those two factors change, then the entire context and acceptance of their relationship can change too.

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