The Secret Life of Bees

Themes and Colors
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Secret Life of Bees, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Secret Life of Bees takes place in 1964, immediately after the signing of the Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Civil Rights Act is often regarded as having ushered in a new era of American history. With it the U.S. government finally defended African Americans’ legal and societal rights: blacks could eat in restaurants, use public bathrooms, vote, and drive without fear of legal discrimination. But as Kidd makes very…

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From the first chapter, Sue Monk Kidd makes it clear that she’s writing a novel about the relationships between different kinds of women. Because the protagonist of her book is a young teenager who’s lost her mother, and the majority of the other female characters are adult women, the most important kind of woman-to-woman relationship for the novel is that between the mother and the daughter. Lily travels to Tiburon, South Carolina, in search of…

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It’s easy to see that The Secret Life of Bees is a religious novel, even an explicitly Christian novel. The characters gain wisdom and happiness by gathering together to worship Christian figures like the Virgin Mary, and Lily Owens, the protagonist, has some of her most important insights while she’s praying. And yet none of the characters have much respect for churches (indeed, the only priest in the book is portrayed as being…

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One of the first things we learn about Lily Owens, the protagonist of The Secret Life of Bees, is that she’s a gifted storyteller. Lily enjoys writing stories; moreover, she’s good at inventing “stories”—in other words, lies—to get herself out of trouble. At several points, Lily’s ability to concoct a convincing story saves her from jail (and moves the plot of the novel forward). But storytelling in The Secret Life of Bees is…

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Some of the longest and most vivid passages in The Secret Life of Bees are about the elaborate religious ceremonies and rituals that take place at the Boatwright house. The three Boatwright sisters subscribe to a religion they’ve developed themselves, blending aspects of Catholicism and African-American history.

The Secret Life of Bees makes it clear that rituals and ceremonies are bent and shaped according to the needs of the people who practice them. The Boatwrights…

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