Inevitable conflicts with parents happen frequently in the lives of many adolescents. In the novel “The Secret Life of Bees,” a young girl named Lily Owens runs away from home, leaving her abusive father behind, on a hunt for more connections to her dead mother, Deborah. Kidd places obstacles of parental conflict for Lily throughout her whole novel. Lily battles with the internal conflict of the knowledge that she killed her own mother and the struggle in finding out the truth.
The sources of her conflict with her dead mother include the information she receives from August and T. Ray, her sense of feeling unwanted, and her longing to experience love of a family. Sue Monk Kidd uses this conflict to show that during Lily’s strife to overcome her conflicts she finds herself and realizes that she already has a complete family. Kidd does this to relay a message to the readers so that they may understand that the mother Lily searched for lay inside of her after all and she is able to create her own power, proving the strength in women.
In “The Secret Life of Bees,” Kidd uses the information Lily receives from her father T. Ray and August to create and further fuel the conflict between Lily and Deborah so that the reader understands the strength in the unity and also individuality of women. The conflict begins when Lily discovers from T. Ray that she was the one to kill her mother by accidently shooting her (Kidd 18-19). She later learns from T. Ray that Deborah had ran away, leaving Lily, and had only come back for her things and not her daughter when she had shot her (Kidd 39). During the novel, Lily keeps a strong distaste for her father and does not believe him when he tells her this.
However, Lily does begin to feel worthless and as if she were a horrible child as the idea of her killing her own mother grows on her. She then learns the truth after she runs away from home and finds a family of women who knew Deborah, including a woman named August. Throughout the novel, Lily builds a strong bond with August and trusts her when she tells her that her mother ran away from Lily and T. Ray and left her, but had returned to get her when she was killed. Kidd uses Lily’s knowledge of her mother to provide Lily with a reason to loathe her mother after having such a perfect image of her. However, Lily overcomes this conflict by finding her place with her new family of strong women that teach her to persevere and listen to the mother inside her.
Kidd also uses Lily’s weakness of feeling unwanted to prove that her parental conflict with her mother before she died had affected Lily long-term, yet left her with women that taught her to stand strong. When Lily learns that her mother became pregnant with her and was forced to marry T. Ray unhappily, she realized that her mother had not wanted her. Kidd writes as the consciousness of Lily: “How dare she? How dare she leave me? I was her child?” (Kidd 259). This pass into Lily’s thoughts gives the reader the idea that even years after her mother’s mistake of leaving, she had been scarred.
Lily’s fire of aversion toward her deceased mother is fueled by the thought that she was an unwanted child by her mother, as well as her abusive father, T. Ray. Kidd provides this adversity for Lily throughout her novel to offer a comfort for Lily by the end of the book from the Daughters of Mary so that the reader understands the strong bond between powerful women. Lily finally finds clarity and realizes that she is not unwanted by her “stand-in mothers.”
Sue Monk Kidd also uses Lily’s longing for a family connection and love from the people surrounding her to show that when women come together to heal each other’s wounds, such as Lily’s drawn out conflict with her mother, they can create a true sanctuary of a loving family. In the novel, Lily believes the only way to feel a mother’s love comes from her biological mother, which again created the conflict between Lily and Deborah. Lily longs for this love because she has never experienced it, and she has kept false hope in her mother’s love until the resolution of the novel. However, she overlooks the women she is with daily that have devoted themselves to helping her cope with her conflicts.
By the end of the novel, Kidd gives Lily the realization that she has had a family that loves her unconditionally the whole time she was searching for one. This is proven through the last sentence of the novel, quoted “I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shining over me”(By saying this, Lily shows her appreciation for her multiple mothers and her new family for guiding her and helping her overcome all of the differences in her life, as well as the horrible, yet
teachable, conflict with her dead mother.
In conclusion, Kidd wants her readers to find the message of determination and pressing on to focus on the voice inside of oneself through Lily’s story. Parental conflicts occur daily in many teen lives but rarely do they scar them as Lily Owens did. Although the hurtful information she was fed, her sensitivity to feeling unwanted, and her lack of experiencing a loving family led to a conflict with her idea of her dead mother that was built over time, Lily’s ability to overcome her past was aided by women that taught her to find the power inside of her.
Her conflicts guide her to new places where she can become her own and mature into a strong woman. She found her home, her family, and herself by conquering her battles and moving on, which relates to Kidd’s intention of her novel: Only the factors determination and perseverance on one’s own shape one’s path, not the conflicts of his/her past.
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