The Secret Life of Bees

A dear friend sent me the book “The Secret Life of Bees” for my birthday. I read it over a handful of days this past week-end. I cared about the characters and was carried along by the prose.

I enjoyed the book, but I have to say that it reads best as a feminist novel; a novel about how women can empower and validate one another by creating a sisterhood and telling one another our stories in a supporting environment. I loved how the women supported and understood one another’s mourning, grief, and rage, and no one ever said, “Oh, you are over-reacting” or “I’m sure that’s not what happened” (I have noticed that men often say this to women, thinking they are being comforting, when [in fact] they are invalidating our experiences). This was a wonderful tribute to my friendship with the amazing woman who sent me the book.

Coming from a South Carolina family, I enjoyed the sheer southern-ness of it as well.

I didn’t think that it worked as well as a novel about racism. For one, I think it’s all too easy for *some* readers to think “I’m glad we’re past that” or “Only in South Carolina.” One, we aren’t past “that” and two, racism in South Carolina may be in the open, but it’s far from worse there than anywhere else. Additionally, all of the black women were sterotypical in some way, lovable as the characters were. Except for May, they were mystical mommy stand-ins, and I don’t think I have to go into why that is problematic. And honestly, there are better sources than me for explaining WHY that’s a problem

Perhaps that short-coming is inevitable when a novel is about a young white girl’s awakening to the unfairness of racism, but still…

I haven’t seen the movie, and I might. As much as I can see the problems with the book, I did enjoy it, and it spoke in quiet, wonderful ways about the friend who gave it to me. But I’m not sure about the movie. Would it have been that hard to find a little girl with curly black hair to play Lily? And Rosaleen, who in the book is enormously fat, is played by Jennifer Hudson, who is far from any kind of fat. Did a sexy, sexy woman have to be cast as this character? Would she have been too challenging to people if she wasn’t pretty?

I don’t know. Other than the aspect of this novel that ties into the “sisterhood” I have formed with the friend who gave it to me, I have mixed feelings.

What do ya’ll think?

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8 thoughts on “The Secret Life of Bees

  1. Tracy

    Great observation on the supportiveness of men vs women! Adding to the “helpful” things men say, don’t forget my personal favorite, said always in a suspicious voice, “Is it that time of the month for you?” Very helpful. 😉 It is amazing to me all the time what a difference having at least one close woman friend makes in several aspects of life, from trivial to not. I wonder if it’s the same for guys? Do they get the same kind of validation from each other that we get from each other?

    I keep trying to think of an example about where you are wrong about the stereotypical portrayal of the black women in the book, but unfortunately, I think you are dead on. I saw the movie, and I liked it, but I don’t know how good it would have been if I hadn’t read the book. Because, of course, there was a lot left out about what was going on inside Lilly’s head. And it wasn’t apparent in the movie, I didn’t think, what a big deal the black Mary was to Lilly.

    I still love this book, though. 🙂

    1. “Is it that time of the month for you” I have to say that I don’t currently have any men that foolish in my life, except maybe Dad. Those are fighting words and any man who thinks otherwise is being an idiot.

      I don’t think men, or in any event, straight white men, need validation in their friendships. They get it EVERYWHERE.

      Oh hell, that’s going to get me some trolls. Better turn moderation back on…

  2. rjjs8878

    I saw the movie but didn’t read the book. The movie was entertaining but predictable. After reading your comments about the cast it is clear that the Hollywood system cast a group of actors that would be most appealing to wide demographic.

    1. Yeh, that’s a shame, because none of the women (including Lily) is described in such a way that you’d imagine them as “conventionally” pretty. But all of the women become beautiful in one another’s eyes. That is indeed another positive in the book.

      The ony “hottie” in the book, described in such a way as you’d imagine that kind of prettiness, is Zach. And then, Lily is atttracted to him and we see him through her eyes.

      1. Tracy

        I love what you just said about the women becoming beautiful in each other’s eyes. You are so right! And isn’t that what happens in real life, too, when we stop and really “look” at someone… I mean past their outer appearance, and listen to and understand where they’re coming from. CONNECT with them. Casting the movie the way they did really does say something about our culture. I wonder what Sue Monk Kidd thought about it?

  3. Tracy

    About Our Lady of Chains —

    I found Our Lady to be fascinating this read through. She was before, but even more so this time. I love how she is called Our Lady of Chains, not because she wore them, but because she broke them.

    And I loved the image of the Daughters “preserving” her with honey. I have been trying to put something into words for several days now (unrelated to Bees) and this image, and what you said about the sisterhood, sort of helped it all come together. The image with all of their hands, rubbing in the honey, all coming to be moving in sync… the moving in sync makes me think of understanding. So, thinking of Our Lady as more than just a statue, it’s like they all came together in understanding, which I think was part of the preserving… I mean how being understood seems to be such an important part of life and living happily. Even the honey itself… it’s golden like the sun, sweet like happiness, the result of a community’s work… people (or bees as the case may be ;)) coming together. I think it makes all the difference in life.

    Oh yeah, and I loved how people gathered strength by touching her heart. It’s the same thing, again, isn’t it? Connection. What do you think?

  4. Denise

    I read the book years ago but haven’t seen the movie, well, mainly because I just kinda didn’t want to. I really don’t like the way “Hollywood” turns many good books into movies. I like to carry that book around with me inside and think of it as kinda of remembering the way I grew up. Thinking color differences weren’t really there and thinking that my Aunt Ellen was one of the most beautiful and loving women I had ever met. And don’t even get me started on Stephan Scriber!!!

    1. Well, while color didn’t change the way we loved we loved Ellen or Stephan, it certainly changed their experiences in ways we aren’t likely to fully understand. It may have changed their experiences WITH us too. (This kind of thing is why listening, really listening to others, and believing each person’s expression of her own experience, is so important*). The character Zach spoke to some of this, but he was given far too few words to say…

      I enjoyed the book but saw too many weaknesses to keep me away from the movie. Falling asleep most nights at 8:30 and wanting to watch science fiction instead might keep me from it though! ; ) (None of this makes it any less special of a gift).

      *Not too long ago, an upper middle class white man in his 50s told me that he and I would have to “agree to disagree” about what it’s like to be a woman working in the sciences. I kid you not. I don’t think either you or I would EVER want to remotely come close to this kind of entitled assumption (or just plain bad manners).

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