The Secret Life of Bees

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The Secret Life of Bees Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Sue Monk Kidd

 Sue Monk Kidd grew up in Georgia, where she was raised to be a devout Christian, and she studied nursing at Texas Christian University. In her late 20s, she was inspired to become a writer after reading the books of Thomas Merton, the Catholic philosopher and essayist. Kidd took writing classes at Emory University, and later published a series of short essays in magazines like Reader’s Digest and Guideposts. She wrote three books on her conflicted relationship with Christianity and feminism, and in 2001, she published her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, which was a major bestseller. In 2005, she published a second novel, The Mermaid Chair, and in 2014 she published her third novel, The Invention of Wings. Kidd currently resides in Florida with her husband.
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Historical Context of The Secret Life of Bees

 The most important historical event to which Kidd’s novel alludes is the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a monumental piece of legislation that protected the rights of African-Americans to enter public places, enroll in schools, and avoid discrimination from the white community. Although the Civil Rights Act strengthened the black community and protected them from many of the worst kinds of racism in America, it provoked a fierce and often bloodthirsty backlash. In the South, blacks were bullied and in some cases murdered for exercising their new freedoms. Many of the antagonists of Kidd’s novel are racist whites angered by the new strength and courage of the black community. Kidd also alludes to another milestone of the 60s: Kennedy’s support for the “Space Race,” which resulted in the program that eventually sent American astronauts to the surface of the moon in 1969.

Other Books Related to The Secret Life of Bees

 The Secret Life of Bees specifically mentions many literary works, including Jane Eyre (which, like Kidd’s novel, is about a runaway girl looking for surrogate parents). In addition, the plot of the novel resembles that of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, another coming-of-age novel about a white Southern child who’s friends with a black person. The critic Leslie Fiedler argued that the homoerotic black-white friendship was one of the key motifs of American literature, evident in Moby Dick, Huck Finn, and many other great novels—including, perhaps, Kidd’s. (For a fascinating discussion of this issue, see Fiedler’s essay, “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!”)
Key Facts about The Secret Life of Bees
  • Full Title: The Secret Life of Bees
  • Where Written: Georgia, South Carolina
  • When Published: November 8, 2001
  • Literary Period: Third-wave feminism fiction
  • Genre: Coming-of-age story (Bildungsroman), historical fiction
  • Setting: Sylvan, South Carolina, 1964
  • Climax: August Boatwright reveals that she knew Lily’s mother
  • Antagonist: T. Ray Owens / racism in America
  • Point of View: First person (Lily Owens)

Extra Credit for The Secret Life of Bees

The movie, of course: In 2008, The Secret Life of Bees was adapted for the big screen. The film, which starred Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning, was a modest box-office success, but didn’t get particularly good reviews.

High school classic: If you went to middle school or high school in the last decade, you were probably assigned The Secret Life of Bees for your English class. A recent survey found that Kidd’s novel is one of the ten most commonly taught high school English texts in America, just a notch below To Kill a Mockingbird and 1984.