Literature / The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees is a 2002 novel by Sue Monk Kidd. It centers around fourteen-year-old Lily Owens, a girl living under the care of her abusive father and constantly tormented by her blurred memory of the day her mother died. When she runs away from home along with her nanny, Rosaleen, the two head for Tiburon, a town written on the back of one of Lily's mother's possessions, and end up getting taken in by a trio of beekeeping sisters.

A movie based on the novel was released in 2008, starring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo, and Alicia Keys.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: T. Ray. is both physically and emotionally abusive towards Lily, often making her kneel on grits for hours at the slighted provocation.
  • Accidental Murder: As a child, Lily witnessed her parents fighting, and when they dropped a gun, Lily picked it up and it went off, killing Lily's mother.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Lily has black hair in the novel, but is played by blonde Dakota Fanning in the movie. Her mom has black hair as well - they have a Strong Family Resemblance - and thus is blonde in the film as well.
  • Broken Pedestal: Lily towards her mother in the later chapters of the novel, when T. Ray turns out to have been right about Lily's mother leaving her. She gets over this, though.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Lily refers to her abusive father as "T.Ray".
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.:
    • Lily has a temporary one after talking with August about her mother and learning that her mother left her behind when she ran away. She gets out of it after talking with August some more and finding out that her mother came back on the day of her death to get her.
    • May after she finds out about Zach being arrested. It does not end well.
  • I Choose to Stay: Lily chooses to stay with Rosaleen and the Boatwright sisters at the end of the novel, standing up to T. Ray once he comes back to retrieve her.
  • Kill the Cutie: The sweet May commits suicide after Zach is arrested.
  • Meaningful Name: Zach is named for president Zachary Taylor.
  • Missing Mom: Lily's mother died when she was four. Because Lily accidentally killed her while her parents were fighting.
  • Parental Neglect: T. Ray toward Lily. He is a distant father, emotionally and physically.
  • Parental Substitute: Rosaleen to Lily from the beginning of the novel. And eventually the Boatwright sisters as well.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Lily and Zach, who are unable to act on their feelings for one other due to the racial barriers between them.
  • Self-Made Woman: August Boatwright. There's only ONE black business in town and it's hers.
  • The '60s: The book takes place in South Carolina during 1964.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Lily bears a striking resemblance to her mother, so much that it leads T. Ray to vent his frustrations with Deborah on Lily for several years and eventually see her as the living incarnation of her mother during a trance at the end of the novel.
  • Sugar and Ice Personality: June, who has a difficult time warming up to Lily when they first meet due to her resentment of her mother.
  • Tell Me About My Mother: much of the story focuses on Lily wanting to learn more about her mother on her quest to find her.
  • Temporal Theme Naming: The Boatwright sisters are all named for months: August, June, May, and May's deceased twin April.
  • Tender Tears: May, the most sensitive of the Boatwright sisters by far, because of her trauma.
  • The Cutie: May, who retained a sweet, childlike innocence well into her adult years.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Lily and Zach develop a mutual attraction, but are extremely hesitant to act on it because they know it would likely get Zach killed. Their relationship ultimately does not materialize beyond one kiss, but Zach promises that they will be together one day.
  • X Meets Y: To Kill A Mocking Bird meets Silent Hill.
  • You're Not My Father: Lily cannot bring herself to call T. Ray her father for much of the novel, since she feels he "isn't exactly the Daddy type. Only towards the end of the novel does she finally call T. Ray "Daddy", although this was done in order to snap him out of his trance.