“Nobody around here had ever seen a lady beekeeper till her. She liked to tell everybody that women made the best beekeepers, ’cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. It comes from years of loving children and husbands.”
The Secret Life of Bees is about the story of a runaway girl who leaves to find the truth to her mother’s life. Taking place in the worlds of bees and honey, the book focuses on the aspects of maternal betrayal, loss, forgiveness, and love, and the book shares a rare wisdom about life about the divine power of women and the transforming power of love.
The book is a lovely healing story that is fun to read for people as young as ten years ago. I would especially recommend it to teenage girls who entered adolescence because the book will offer important takeaways that will last for a life time.
A healing story of race and motherhood–
book review of The Secret Life of Bees
As cheesy as it sounds, the narrator of the coming-of-age novel The Secret Life of Bees is another teenage girl. Inevitably, readers might think, the story will be about growing from immaturity and becoming a new person; it is true, growth is an important component of the story, but what set this coming-of-age novel from other ones are the themes of healing, race, and maternal love that warm the hearts of the audiences.
Titled “the Secret life of bees”, each chapter is followed by a quote about the lifestyle, characteristics, and habitats of bees. For example, chapter three starts with the quote: “new beekeepers are told that the way to find the elusive queen is by first locating her circle of attendants.” It can not be more obvious that throughout the book, the bee-related quotes serve as important clues that lead us to the plots, turning points, and character developments in the following chapter. In chapter three, for example, the story is about “finding the elusive queen” by running away from home in search of the footsteps of the protagonist’s deceased mother. The starting quotes about bees in each chapter are all different, but each of them tells a unique story or even philosophy about the queen bees, honeybee workers, and their relationship with each other.
More subtle is the symbolism behind the ideas of “the secret life of bees”. In the species of bees, the female is the dominating gender, and queens are the “unifying force of the community”. As the quote in chapter one revealed, “if [the queen] is removed from the hive, the workers very quickly sense her absence. After a few hours, or even less, they show unmistakable signs of queenlessness.” The symbols of bees as humans and queens are mother figures beautifully characterize the maternal relationship between mothers and their children; the title of the book, which first seemed irrelevant, has become a subtle and lovely clue that connects the plot of the book to the major theme—celebration of female empowerment and the beauty of maternal love.
We all make mistakes and feel insecure, and the book itself is a story of healing, of learning from one’s mistake and growing from it, no matter how deadly the mistake is. In the book, the characters come to the realization that “after you get stung, you can’t get unstung, no matter how much you whine about it.” Similar to making mistakes and hurting other people, it is hard to simply let go. The book, however, optimistically proves it possible by creating a beautiful healing story across the boundaries of race in the not-yet desegregated American South, at the same time celebrating the beauty of motherhood despite race.
August, the mother figure of Lily, “liked to tell everybody that women made the best beekeepers, ’cause they have a special ability built into them to love creatures that sting. It comes from years of loving children and husbands.” The analogy of mothers and queen bees extend to the care and love that women have for their loved ones; and love is the healing factor—it is the reason why a teenage girl who killed her own mother on accident can learn to forgive herself and love those around her.
The book advocates love—for nature, people of all race, and for life. When one sister committed suicide, June learns to live by facing her fear and embracing her love and marriage, understanding that “it’s [her] time to live” because “there is nothing perfect…only life.”
As Lily put all her faith in “Our Lady” Black Madonna, which she believes is the mother of Jesus, August tells her that “You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do. Even if we already have a mother, we still have to find this part of ourselves inside” Although Lily lost her own mother in the accident, she finds motherly figures in her new “home”, and eventually, the book ends with Lily finding mothers in all the moons, signifying the completion of the healing process as she embraces the reality and fills her heart with love.
In the book, the element of race is as outstanding as the themes of bees, queens, mothers, and daughters. Taking place during the Civil Rights movement, the book reveals many racial conflicts, like systematic racism, discrimination, and racial profiling. While relentlessly disclosing the authentic historical background of the novel, the book takes on the optimistic approach of creating a home where black and white live equally and happily together; where a white girl loves her black sisters as much as they love her; where a white girls has an equal amount of faith in Black Madonna. The optimistic approach in turn strengthens the power of motherly love because such love is never constrained by desegregation laws or racial prejudice. When realizing the different skin colors of the two lovers and what it means for them, one said, “we can’t think of changing our skin color. Change the world – that’s how we gotta think.” Starting from love, they started changing the world, leading to where we are now—a world where love persists among and across people of different colors (although racism still exists).
Critiques can find problems in the overly optimistic (and so unrealistic) approach of the book, the cheesy storytelling, or even the childishness that came along, but for many other readers, the story is touching, heartbreaking, and heartwarming because it heals a broken heart with maternal love that is never limited by the boundaries of race.
information: The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.