against a background of America’s south in 1964, The
Secret Life of Bees is
a wonderful piece of feminist literature. The strongest characters in
the book are women, and it is the women who remain with us long after
we have turned the last page.
main character is Lily, a fourteen-year-old white girl; her mother is
dead and her father is abusive and cruel. When the housekeeper
Rosaleen, a black woman, attempts to register for the vote, she is
accosted, thrown into gaol and beaten up. Lily manages to sneak her
out of the hospital, terrified that if she is to be left there the men who
beat her up will come back and kill her. The two women then hitchhike
to a town, the name of which Lily has seen on the back of a card
belonging to her mother. Eventually they reach the home of a bee keeper.
are an important part of the story, which is basically about
oneself and being able to accept that which one finds. There are many
references to the
qualities of honey and how understanding and ‘letting go’ leads
to personal freedom.
queen bee, the Black Madonna, the Negro women and, of course, Lily
herself all combine to create a force that shows that although they might be
living in a man’s world, it is in fact women who have the last word.