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The Secret Life of Bees

In: English and Literature

Submitted By TessU
Words 1126
Pages 5
Tess Ungerleider
Mrs. Schlangen
Honors English II
July 14, 2014
The Secret Life of Bees
In Sue Monk Kidd’s, The Secret Life of Bees, she demonstrates many literary devices such as motifs, foreshadowing, and themes. The one device that stands out the most is her use of symbolism. Symbolism is defined “as a literary element that uses symbols to signify ideas or qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense” (Literary Devices 1). In The Secret Life of Bees, symbolism is shown by Black Mary, the Wailing Wall, and the bees.
In the novel, Black Mary represents something different for each character. For the store clerk and the people in the town, they see Black Mary as a label on a honey bottle. The clerk tells Lily that most people do not buy the honey “‘cause it’s got the Virgin Mary pictured as a colored women” (Kidd 64). For the Boatwright sisters, it stands for something completely diverse. They call Black Mary the Black Madonna. She represents their hope and aspiration, as well as their religion. Every night before they go to sleep, the Daughters of Mary all pray and worship the wooden statue. Another symbol she stands for is female power. Because of this, August Boatwright is able to help Lily become a powerful woman, and be able to stand up to other students and even T. Ray. Lastly, Black Mary signifies a connection Lily has with her mother because she found the wooden picture with some of her belongings. Through this picture, Lily is able to find a family that will love her and take care of her as if she had been part of it from the very beginning. Not only does it bring Lily closer to her mother, it also symbolizes holding onto the past. Lily tells the readers that “Now and then I’d out there and dig up the box. I would lie on the ground with the trees folded over me, wearing her gloves, smiling at her photograph” (Kidd 14). By cherishing this photo and keeping it by her side, it shows that Lily is unwilling to let go of what happened in the past.
The Wailing Wall is another symbol in the story that signifies suffering and sorrow, but also support and strength. The wall was built mainly by May Boatwright who would get overwhelmed by listening to sad news or hearing about someone else’s grief. As a warning, she began to hum “Oh! Susanna!” to let everyone know that the subject had affected her. May would then go outside and write on a piece of paper what troubled her and stick it under a rock. August tells Lily that “when you and I hear about some misery out there, it might make us feel bad for a while…But May…Everything just comes into her- all the suffering out there- and she feels as if it’s happening to her” (Kidd 95). May builds the wall because she sees it as a way to deal with all of her pain and to find strength along with a sense of peace. May had a sister named April who had died a few years ago. April was her wall and would choose what May should feel so that she would not be burdened with grief and sadness. The wall not only helps May, but Lily as well. Lily had been suffering her entire life while living with T. Ray and his cruel punishments. He took all his anger from her mother leaving onto her, and did not treat her kindly. Lily feels as if “somebody should personally thank every rock out there for the human misery it had absorbed” (Kidd 187). Lastly, the symbol of bees mirrors and guides the characters in the novel. August tells Lily that “every bee has its role to play” (Kidd 148.) They symbolize people working together and that each person plays a certain part. In every hive there is a queen bee and it’s her job to tell the worker bees, what to do, “She’s the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep it going” (Kidd 149). In the novel, the queen bee is August. She runs the honey making business, and is the oldest of the Boatwright sisters. She guides June, May, Lily, Zach, and Rosaleen. She takes care of them as if they were her own children, and she protects them. Black Mary can also be seen as the queen bee because she is worshiped and guides everyone. The Daughters of Mary pray to her and draw support from her. The worker bees are Zach, Lily, and Neil because they work for August and collect the honey. Workers bees continuously leave the hive, just as they leave the house and retrieve the honey from the fields. May and Rosaleen can be seen as the caretaker bees because they clean the house and provide the meals. June falls under the third class of bees which are the ones who clean out the hive of the dead respectfully. June, in the same way respects the dead by playing for the people who are grieving for their lost ones. The bees also serve another purpose, they are Lily’s unspoken guides throughout the novel. In the very beginning when Lily was back home with T. Ray, they came into her room trying to show her a way out. Lily then begins to follow the honey label, which leads her to Tiburon where she becomes a care taker of bees. The bees also help Lily realize things, like the fact that she was in love with Zach when she licked the honey off his fingers. In the end, Lily is inspired by the bees’ ability to keep working and surviving which she applies into her own life.
In conclusion, symbolism in The Secret Life of Bees is shown by Black Mary, Wailing Wall, and the bees. Black Mary signifies the women’s hope, aspiration, their religion, and she gives them support and strength. Although the Wailing Wall symbolizes suffering and sorrow, it also represents the strength and support that May receives from her family. The bees show the dynamics of a family and that each person has a certain role they play in their life. With these symbol’s Kidd creates a deep story that invites the reader to look below the surface and see meaning behind a wooden statue, a rock wall, and a hive of bees.

Works Cited:
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. New York: Penguin, 2002. Print.
Bavota, C. "Symbolism - Definition and Examples | Literary Devices." Literary Devices. Magazine Basic, 2014. Web. 13 July 2014. <http://literarydevices.net/symbolism/>.

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