Themes Of Perseverance And Identity In The Secret Life Of Bees

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“The nation saw itself in the midst of a new war in Vietnam, and culture wars were being fought at home, with the civil rights movement escalating and new youth subcultures emerging that rejected the values of the past…Over the course of the decade, public attitudes shifted away from war and global conflict and instead turned to social issues at home, such as feminism and race relations”. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, the novel takes place in South Carolina 1964, during the 1960s era. The main character, Lily Owens, a fourteen-year old white girl, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce hearted “stand in mother” Rosaleen, insults three racists in town, they escape to Tiburon, South Carolina. A town that hold the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters, Lily finds refuge in their mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna. In The Secret Life of Bees the prevalent themes of perseverance and identity can be connected historically to the lessons learned throughout life.

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The society, culture, and politics of the 1960s paved the way for injustice and inequality in America. Important events during this time period affected the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by Lyndon B. Johnson, which ended racial discrimination across the country. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Johnson, ended literacy tests and poll taxes that were required for citizens to vote, due to how unconstitutional it was. The March on Washington in 1963, which was a march for freedom and jobs, was led by Martin Luther King Jr where he gave the famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Some famous people during the 1960s were: Neil Armstrong, first astronaut on the moon, Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the Civil Rights Movement, The Beatles, an English rock band, John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, The Rolling Stones, a rock and roll band, Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll”, and the Beach Boys, an American rock band. For the living conditions, black sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and agricultural laborers lived in urban ghettos. Areas were segregated before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was put into law. The living conditions for other races, such as, Latinos, Asians, and African Americans had to live in designated, inner-city districts, while the whites lived in suburban areas or the cities. Other races faced discrimination. Whites were granted better things than the other races and treated them like they were below them, which was called white superiority. Other races couldn’t go to “only white” locations. Everyone was living a segregated lifestyle. Some political and social aspects during this time were: Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, Nixon becoming president, Apollo 8 orbiting the moon, anti-war protesting, and The Tet Offensive. The changing of America affected the citizens’ view towards the “Sixties”.

Sue Monk Kidd’s life plays a key role in the development of the themes in The Secret Life of Bees. She was born on August 12, 1948 in Sylvester, Georgia. In 1970, she received a nursing degree when she graduated from Texas Christian University. After that, she took creative writing courses at Emory University and Anderson College. She also studied at Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and other writer conferences. She wrote her first book called, When the Heart Waits, which was published in 1990. She has a husband named Sandford Taylor, a son named Bob Kidd, and a daughter named Ann Kidd Taylor. When she was in her forties, she was focused on writing fiction, winning the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature and the 1996 Poets & Writers Exchange Program in Fiction. She also received a Katherine Anne Porter award and citations in Best American Short Stories’ 100 Distinguished Stories. The Secret Life of Bees spent more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list. The novel was named the Book Sense Paperback Book of the Year in 2004 and won the Orange Prize in England in 2002, along with numerous awards. The Mermaid Chair reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 9 months. The novel won the Quill Award for General Fiction in 2005. It also won an International IMPAC Dublin Literacy Award. Sue and her daughter, Ann, wrote a memoir called Traveling with Pomegranates: A Mother-Daughter Story, which appeared on various bestseller lists, including the New York Times list. The Invention of Wings debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for 9 months. It also won many other literacy awards, such as, the Florida Book of Year Award and the SIBA Book Award. The novel was nominated for the International Dublin Literacy Award and it was also chosen for Oprah’s Book Club 2.0. Kidd’s successful career led to enjoyment in her life by doing what she loves to do.

The themes of perseverance and identity from The Secret Life of Bees can be seen in the 1960s. For instance, perseverance can be seen when President Johnson makes a speech on the “State of the Union Message. “America will persevere. Our patience and our perseverance will match our power. Aggression will never prevail”. Also, an example from the novel is when Rosaleen goes to register to vote again, even when she was imprisoned the first time when she insulted the racists men. “‘I’m gonna finish what I started,’ Rosaleen said, lifting her chin. ‘I’m gonna register to vote’”. Additionally, identity can be seen when black nationalism started to spread throughout the 1960s. “Black nationalism is the movement for self-identity among African Americans started by Marcus Garvey in the 1920s. Black nationalism surged in the 1960s through the philosophy of Malcolm X” (“Black Nationalism”). Furthermore, another example in the novel is when Lily struggled with her self-identity because of how she’s not like any of the girls at her school. “I worried so much about how I looked and whether I was doing things right, I felt half the time I was impersonating a girl instead of really being one”.

In conclusion to the themes, perseverance and identity, they relate to the fact that the United States was undergoing changes because of how people were fighting for justice and the increase of self-pride for one’s identity. Perseverance and identity in The Secret Life of Bees are related to the learned lessons historically. 

16 August 2021

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