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Mothering and Female Power theme-The Secret Life of Bees

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Marie Van Benthem

on 14 April 2014

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Transcript of Mothering and Female Power theme-The Secret Life of Bees

Asking forgiveness... from Deborah
"That night I lay in bed and thought about dying and going to be with my mother in paradise. I would meet her saying, "Mother, forgive. Please forgive, " and she would kiss my skin till it grew chapped and tell me I was not to blame. She would tell me this for the first ten thousand years." - Lily, pg 7
"My first and only memory of my mother was the day she died." "The day she died was December 3, 1954... The afternoon my mother died, there was a suitcase open on the floor, sitting near the stuck window. She moved in and out of the closet, dropping this and that into the suitcase, not bothering to fold them. The closet floor vibrated whenever someone climbed the stairs below it, which is how I knew T. Ray was coming. Over my head I heard my mother, pulling things from the hangers, the swish of clothes, wire clinking together. Hurry, she said. When his shoes clomped into the room, she sighed, the breath leaving her as if her lungs had suddenly clenched. This is the last thing I remember with perfect crispness--her breath floating down to me like a tiny parachute, collapsing without a trace among the piles of shoes. I don't remember what they said, only the fury of their words, how the air turned raw and full of welts." - Lily, pg 11
The Virgin Mary, Black Madonna, or Black Mary
For much of the novel, August teaches Lily about the kind of undying, universal, hidden love that exists everywhere in the world but which is actually manufactured by the Virgin Mary. According to August, in order to feel the completeness stolen from her when her mother died, Lily must realize that she is loved by this Great Universal Mother. The way that the Black Madonna is used by August and the other women as almost a religious icon indicates the faith that they place in this figure as representing a strength greater than themselves.
Mothering and Female Power
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Marie Van Benthem April 10th 2014
"She lived alone in a little house tucked back in the woods, not far from us, and came every day to cook, clean, and be my stand-in mother. Rosaleen had never had a child herself, so for the last ten years I'd been her pet guinea pig." -Lily, pg 7
Lily loves Rosaleen like a mother. Rosaleen's lack of manners sometimes bothers Lily, but Rosaleen is the one who cleans Lily up when she has hurt herself after throwing the honey jars against the wall of the honey house, the one who sometimes intercedes with Lily's father, the one who cooks her meals and cleans the house. The care taker, the mother figure.
Lily seeks her mother's forgiveness for killing her, but she also misses her mother's presence and wisdom. Lily harbors romantic ideas about her mother and how she would have treated Lily if she were still alive. She lays awake fantasizing that her mother forgives her and offers unconditional love. She thinks about her mother and her being together in "paradise" one day, a place Deborah already resides.
Lily's last and only memory of her mother is one she cherishes and remembers every detail of, down to the smell of her perfume. Like a bow tied around your finger, Lily's memory of Deborah is one she keeps close and wont let herself forget. This shows us how important the need to have a mother is, we hold onto meaningless things since they serve an importance as they belong to our mom.
“Our mother said she was like Mary, with her heart on the outside of chest." -August, p. 97
“There is nothing perfect,” August said from the doorway. “There is only life.”
Initially, these words seem rather sharp, but, taken in context, they actually encapsulate the kind of invaluable maternal comfort August provides Lily. August teaches Lily about bees and about life. After Lily tells August the truth about her running away and her role in her mother’s death, Lily expects August to provide her with the empty phrases that people usually offer those who are upset. Instead, August offers rough-edged wisdom.
August is Lily's second surrogate mother, and she gives Lily wisdom. She instinctively knows what Lily needs and realizes right away whose daughter Lily is. She waits patiently until Lily comes to her with the story of her real mother, and she holds Lily while she lets out all her pain and anger. August gives Lily the courage to listen to herself, the power of her spirituality with Mary, and the understanding that a woman can be a powerful, strong, person who does good in the world.

The Daughters of Mary also act as surrogate mothers to Lily. They take her into their circle, teach her about sisterhood and community, and allow her to become part of their religious service. In the end of the novel, they stand shoulder to shoulder when Lily's father attempts to take her away. These are the women that would come to the house to pray in front of the statue of Mary. Lily was able to see their confidence and strength while in their presence. She was transformed by gaining confidence through their example. Also, she learned to trust them and this in turn helped her trust herself. Eventually, she was able to stand up to her father too.
"August, June, and May called the statue "Our Lady of Chains, " for no reason that I could see. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women ... The sisters held strands of wooden beads and moved them in their fingers." Lily-pg 107 "Lily, if you ask Mary's help, she'll give it. " -August, pg 110
The Daughters of Mary
Since her role in Deborah's death, Lily has developed many self-image and self-esteem issues. Lily first begins to recognize her power when she hears the voice of her mother saying "her jar is open." Later, she comes to realize that this is not her mother, but the voice of self-confidence within her. August defines it as the voice of Mary that is inside everyone. August's religion — the Daughters of Mary — parallels her ideas about the power of women. The Daughters of Mary believe in the power that Mary can give them, and also in the idea that women can be free.
"Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open"
The metaphor here was that it was time for her to leave/escape.
Becoming a Powerful Woman...
Until meeting August, Lily does not consider a life without men or marriage. But August explains that she had that choice and decided it was not for her. She wanted her freedom, a life with no one telling her what to do. August is an intelligent, educated, problem-solving, sensitive businesswoman, and Lily learns from her to appreciate the strength and power of women. August also shows Lily how women can sensitively mourn and lay the dead away, explaining that death is a part of life and a normal part of life's cycle. This is so different than the violent death of Lily's mother. Lily learns an amazing lesson from a powerful woman.
“All my life I've thought I needed someone to complete me, now I know I need to belong to myself.” -Lily
Lily's father has no respect for women (or children), and he regularly teaches Lily to be a victim. Lily's guilt over her mother's death, combined with a culture that has little regard for women, leaves her with scant understanding of what she might be able to do with her life. All that changes when she reaches the Boatright household... Lily has racism ingrained in her from her family and what society has taught her and this leaves her shocked when she meets the Calender Sisters. This understanding leads to a realization.
female power exists among all skin tones.
“T. Ray did not think colored women were smart. Since I want to tell the whole truth, which means the worst parts, I thought they could be smart, but not as smart as me, me being white. Lying on the cot in the honey house, though, all I could think was August is so intelligent, so cultured, and I was surprised by this. That’s what let me know I had some prejudice buried inside me” -Lily, pg 78
“…It washed over me for the first time in my life how much importance the world had ascribed to skin pigment, how lately it seemed that skin pigment was the sun and everything else in the universe was the orbiting planets. Ever since school let out this summer, it had been nothing but skin pigment every livelong day. I was sick of it” Lily, pg 154-55
Deborah is the mother that Lily lost, and yet finds again at the end of the novel. It is from August that Lily learns that her mother truly loved her and was not going to abandon her. From August's stories about Deborah, Lily learns that no one is perfect and even mothers who love their daughters sometimes need help to find the strength to carry on. Lily also learns that her mother loves her even from beyond this life.
"And when you get down to it, Lily, that is the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love but to persist in love." -August, pg 289
The love of a mother, physically present or not...
Asking forgiveness
The Daughters of Mary
By the end of the novel, Lily has learned how powerful women can be, and she joyfully tells Rosaleen how proud she is of her voter registration. She doesn't let other students tell her with whom she can spend her time or how she can act. She has come into her own power as a human being, and the fact that she is female is now a plus.

“All my life I've thought I needed someone to complete me, now I know I need to belong to myself.” -Lily
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