The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is an intriguing novel written in the perspective of young Lily Owens. Lily’s story begins while she is at her home with T Ray, her evil father who despises her. She runs away with her nanny, Rosaleen, after a short scuffle with the law. She and Rosaleen hitchhike their way to Tiburon, South Carolina where they meet the Boatwright sisters who will change their lives for the better. These women take them in and treat them as if they are family even though they have just met. The women in the novel portray considerable amounts of sympathy to Rosaline and Lilly. Through the characters of June, Rosaleen, and August, Lily’s quest for maternal values is fulfilled when she finds out that these personas portray the motherly qualities of forgiveness, caring, and wisdom.
In the novel, June’s character fluctuates from the initial idea of hatred of Lily to when she loves her, which unveils the nurturing quality of forgiveness that is within her. In the beginning chapters of the book, June has a kind of hostility towards Lily that is uneasily overlooked; however, Lily soon figures out that June actually loves her. During the water fight scene, Lily is walking over the ladies and explains, “I stepped over them with the utmost care, and, seeing how careful I was, June stepped over them, too, and then, to my shock, she hugged me. June Boatwright hugged me while our clothes made sweet, squishy sounds up and down our bodies” (170). Soon after the incident, June forgives Lily for whatever she may have done to cause June to dislike her. In the ending few chapters of the book, Lily is talking to August about how she is quite unlovable. August tries to counteract her opinion stating all of the people that love her: August, Rosaleen, the Daughters, “and June, despite her ways, loves [her], too. It just took her a while longer…” (242). After their talk, one can understand why June treated Lily in such a distasteful manner, and also how June has gone through multiple self-epiphanies to forgive her. Through the character of June Boatwright, forgiveness is shown as a maternal quality that cannot be overlooked.
Since the beginning, Rosaleen has always been a key mother figure to Lily through her quality of caring. At the beginning of the story, it is Lily’s fourteenth birthday, in which T. Ray has completely ignored. Lily is upset and thinks no one really loves her until she sees Rosaleen “bearing an angel food cake with fourteen candles”, one for each of her birth years (28). This act of compassion is obvious portrayal of Rosaleen’s maternal qualities. Another instance of kindness occurs near the middle of the novel when Rosaleen confronts Lily on how she has not been with Rosaleen as much as August. She states, “Why would I be mad? Just ‘cause you spend all your time with August now ain’t no reason for me to care. You pick who you want to talk with, it’s not my business,” showing that she misses Lily (99). Rosaleen is ,in fact, jealous of August because of the extended amount of time Lily has spent with her, even though Rosaleen has always been there for Lily. Caring is a key quality of Rosaleen through her actions towards Lily in the novel.
August Boatwright, a woman of many assets, assists Lily in her journey to finding a mother with her essential trait of wisdom. One day, August takes Lily out to the hives and has a deep conversation with her about her loves and wishes. During this day, August explains to Lily about how “most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about” (148). Lily uses this spark of knowledge to relate to her daily life of secrets towards the sisters. Another symbol of wisdom that August shows Lily is through her affection towards everything. In this scene, Lily is afraid to be stung by the hundreds of bees swarming throughout the hive while she and August are beekeeping. To calm her, August tells Lily to “act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved” (92). Eventually because of this advice, Lily becomes less afraid of the bees and learns to love them and anything that is frightening her. Through multiple examples, August Boatwright is depicted as a character that has the ability to guide Lily throughout her life with her maternal value of wisdom.
Though her life at home was terrible, Lily stumbles upon three women that will flip everything upside down. In the beginning, June Boatwright is known as a non-forgiving and rude woman to Lily; however, she begins to adore Lily throughout the novel showing her forgiveness. Rosaleen has always been a mother figure for Lily who offers Lily her care. August is the epitome of wisdom for Lily, which gives her a motherly bond like no one else. These three principal characters are essential for Lily to learn what true motherhood is.