The Secret Life of Bees

Sue Monk Kidd

Novel Assignment

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Originally published in 2002, Sue Monk Kidd's novel The Secret Life of Bees accompanies the life of Lily Owens in her quest for both knowledge on her deceased mother as well as a mother figure. Through the introduction of powerful female characters throughout the novel, Lily is presented with several surrogate mothers. Set in South Carolina in 1964, the novel recounts a young girl's journey as the search for the truth on her lost mother allows her to seek a mother figure not only in her black housekeeper Rosaleen, but also in the Boatwright sisters and the Daughters of Mary whom she eventually forms close relations with.
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Kidd's novel begins by addressing the early loss of Lily's mother, Deborah, whose death has a great impact on both her husband and daughter. As a maturing young woman, Lily harbors romantic ideas about her mother had she still been alive, and often reflects on the loss of the presence of a mother in her life. This yearning is amplified by the lack of information about Lily's mother, which eventually sends Lily on her quest to escape the oppressive lifestyle with her father and find the presence of a mother's warmth. Although not able to completely replace a biological mother, Lily finds the first presence of a mother's warmth through Rosaleen.
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Although not as cultivated or as soft as Lily imagined a mother to be, Rosaleen provides the companionship that Lily cherishes. As a "stand-in-mother" (2) that is chosen by Lily's father, T. Ray, Rosaleen acts as one of the surrogate mothers. Lily finds her second surrogate mother, the Boatwright sisters, during her quest for knowledge on her dead mother.
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Among the Boatwright sisters, August Boatwright is portrayed as the most motherly of the three, and when Lily needs a mother the most, August is there to provide her with love and support. Although not directly related, Lily finds a bond with August through August's stories of her dead mother's past and is able to find closure of her mother's accidental death through this relationship, which is solidified through August's former occupation as Deborah's housekeeper. The third and final surrogate mother, the Daughters of Mary, come as a result of meeting the Boatwright sisters.
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The Daughters of Mary are presented as a large and fulfilling female community that provides Lily with strong women who are willing to comfort, encourage, and love one another unconditionally such as that of a mother. By including her in their bonds of sisterhood and allowing her to become part of their religious service, through their examples, Lily begins to feel empowered as a woman despite the previous lack of female role models through her mother's early passing.
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Throughout the novel, Lily recognizes that a mother comes not only from those related by blood, but also from mother figures that influence you in your life. The universality of a mother's love supports Rosaleen, the Boatwright sisters, and the Daughters of Mary as they continuously provide Lily with this portrayal of motherhood despite strong racial discrepancies that attempt to separate the two.