full title · The Secret Life of Bees
author · Sue Monk Kidd
type of work · Novel
genre · Bildungsroman (coming-of-age novel)
language · English
time and place written · 1997–2001, near Charleston, South Carolina
date of first publication · 2002
publisher · Viking Penguin
narrator · Fourteen-year-old Lily narrates the novel in retrospect, from the house where she now lives with the Boatwright sisters.
point of view · Lily narrates the novel in the first-person, describing the events she experiences from her unique perspective and retelling the stories others tell her in the same manner.
tone · Lily’s tone resembles the tone a child would effect when narrating a story in his or her diary, except with less self-loathing and more romantic language. Kidd relies on vivid imagery and poetic devices to help elevate the tone.
tense · Past
setting (time) · 1964
setting (place) · Sylvan and Tiburon, South Carolina
protagonist · Lily Owens
major conflict · Motherless Lily lives unhappily with her emotionally detached father, who claims that Lily, as a small child, accidentally killed her mother. When her black maid—and only friend—Rosaleen gets arrested for confronting three racists, Lily decides to break Rosaleen out of jail. Together they run away to a place Lily suspects her mother once spent time.
rising action · Once the Boatwright sisters take her in, Lily must come to terms with the reality of who her mother actually was. Meanwhile, Lily struggles to understand the importance of the surrogate mothers she has found in Tiburon.
climax · The book has a string of climaxes that occur in rapid succession. First, Lily’s sweetheart, Zach, an African American, gets arrested for being with a group of friends when someone throws a glass bottle at a white man. Immediately after, May Boatwright commits suicide when she hears the news about Zach, and the other two Boatwright sisters (August and June) begin to mourn their loss. At the same time, Lily finally confesses to August the truth about her past, namely that she killed her mother and broke Rosaleen out of jail.
falling action · Lily confronts her father, T. Ray, and August convinces him that Lily should stay in Tiburon.
themes · The irrationality of racism; the power of female community; the importance of storytelling
motifs · Bees; epigraphs; mothers
symbols · Beehives; photographs; the black Mary
foreshadowing · The novel opens with Lily watching bees fly around her bedroom. These bees foreshadow Lily’s interaction with the Boatwright sisters at August’s bee farm.