Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees: The Nature of Grief

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Grief leaves an imprint on those who experience it. Some can survive its deep sorrow, others cannot. In The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd, she explores the effect of grief on the main characters. The novel opens with fourteen-year-old Lily Owns struggling with the knowledge that her mother was dead because she, as an infant, picked up a loaded gun and accidentally shot her. She runs away from her abusive father in search for answers of who her mother was. Lily hitchhikes to Tiburon, South Carolina; the location written on the back of an image of the Black Madonna – one of the only belongings she has of her mother’s. There, she finds a pink house inhabited by the Boatwright sisters who are African American women making Black Madonna honey. The Boatwright sisters have had their share of grief with the death of two of their sisters and the racial intolerance they face despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The Boatwright sisters and Lily Owens have different methods of coping with grief; internalizing, ignoring, and forgetting are some of the ways they cope, with varying degrees of success. They discover that they must live past their grief, or else it will tear them apart.
August is the eldest Boatwright sister, and she is the most successful at dealing with grief. She experienced the suicides of two sisters, but she managed to retain her optimism and perspective, unlike June or May. One way August relinquishes grief is through religion. She is the leader of a group called the Daughters of Mary – a group of African-American women who worship Our Lady of Chains. August “manifests the Madonna’s wisdom and protection, balancing out June’s excessive intellectual qualities and May’s excessive emotional qualitie...

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...ife in all of its perfect imperfection.
Grief played a large role in the lives of the Boatwright sisters and Lily Owens. They each encountered death, injustice, and sadness. Grief impacted and left an imprint on each of them. Grief proved fatal for May. August knew that grief was just another aspect of life; that it had to be accepted and then left in the past. June and Lily learned to not let grief rule their lives. Life is not inherently good or bad – events not solely joyful or grievous – it is glorious in its perfect imperfection.

Works Cited

Brown, Rosellen. “Honey Child.” Women’s Review of Books. Vol. 19. No. 7. Philadelphia: Old City Publishing. 2002. 11. Print.
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. New York: Viking Penguin, 2002. Print.
Miline, Ira Mark. Ed. "The Secret Life of Bees." Novels for Students. Vol. 27. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Print.

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