illustration of the back of main character Lily Owens's head with a honeycomb background

The Secret Life of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd

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Discussion Topic

Themes and main ideas in Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees

Summary:

Themes in The Secret Life of Bees include the search for maternal love, the importance of female community, and the journey towards self-acceptance. The novel explores racial tensions in 1960s America, highlighting the power of love and forgiveness in overcoming prejudice. Key ideas involve personal growth through understanding and the healing power of relationships.

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What are some themes in Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees?

One pervading theme in this book is the search for self.  Lily, who never really knew her mother and maintains a sense of protective distance from her father, leaves home in search of answers to her mother's death.  What she finds is an inner strength and identity for herself.  This story is certainly a coming-of-age novel.

Another strong theme that adds to Lily's self-discovery is the theme of community, and specifically, the community of women.  August Boatwright has created an untraditional life and family based on providing a sense of purpose and place within a community.  As Lily discovers her place in this "family" she begins to discover who she really is.

For other themes and explanations, see the link below.

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What is the theme or lesson in The Secret Life of Bees?

A major theme in the work is the struggle for equality. Racism and the fight for equal rights has been a constant theme in literature, and is especially present in literature of marginalized writers (women, ethnic minorities) emerging during the Harlem Renaissance (1920's), the Black Arts Movement, the Civil Rights era, and beyond.

The main "lesson" taught by the work is that racism is a flawed concept. One example of this (though certainly not the only example in the book) can be found in the development of the character of Lily. Lily is challenged by racism throughout the piece, but she ultimately moves past her own mistaken perceptions to accept that difference is not always a negative thing. She starts the novel believing that all black people are uneducated, but when that idea is challenged when she meets and comes to know Boatwright she must revise that opinion. That is her "lesson learned" in the work.

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What is the theme or lesson in The Secret Life of Bees?

This work focuses on racism. You may have had trouble understanding its theme or lesson because the author turns racial stereotypes topsy turvy and, in so doing, exposes the irrational nature of racism. Racial stereotypes are both uncovered and challenged in this novel. Look at the assumptions Lily makes about blacks, and look at how these assumptions are transformed based on the other characters she encounters in the novel. Ask yourself whether or not the characters represent racial stereotypes. Some do, some do not. And where do these stereotypes come from? From ourselves, from our society, from our families............hope this helps.

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What is the main idea of "The Secret Life Of Bees?"

In the “Secret Life of Bees,” Lily Owens doesn't have much incentive to hang around home. Her father beats her, her mother is dead, and Rosealeen is jailed and beaten by racists as she registers to vote. Surrounded daily by bees swarming in her honey-filled bedroom wall, she captures some of them to prove to her neglectful father that there is a problem in her room. One day she opens the jar to let the bees fly free, and she feels a voice inside saying, "Lily, your jar is open." So,  her adventure begins. Rescuing Rosaleen, they run away. Following clues from items left behind by her mother, Lily ends up in a little pink house in Tiburton, South Carolina, where she finds out who her mother was, what life is all about, and where true strength and courage lie. She finds friendship, love, support, and some women who are more her mother than her mother had ever been. The recurrent theme of bees and honey lead Lily to appreciate nature and the beauty of simplicity and reality. The main idea is the strength of women, the weakness, and the ability in all of us to grow and change. The themes of the novel are about racism, the strength of a community of women, nature, and the importance we place on rituals.

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What is the main theme of chapter 11 in The Secret Life of Bees?

The key theme of chapter 11 in The Secret Life of Bees is how experiencing the difficult death of a loved one can change people for the better. May’s death is very difficult to process and her sisters drastically change their behavior. August stops making honey, which is both her passion and her primary way of earning money.

August and June stop eating meals together with Lily and Rosaleen and instead opt to eat alone in their bedrooms.

After many sad days, Lily arrives at the house to find Rosaleen setting four table settings, which means everyone will finally eat together. The meal is very fun, and at its conclusion, August walks over to the statue of the Virgin Mary and says “Well that’s that.” This quotation is significant because it signals August’s acceptance of May’s death. August and June had cut themselves off as they went through the grieving process. But once that grief turned into acceptance, they began to rethink their lives and foundational changes they want to make.

For example, Neil arrives at the house and asks June to marry him. June has turned him down many times before, but this time she happily accepts. Without May’s death and June’s subsequent grieving, it’s hard to imagine June ever would have accepted Neil’s proposal.

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