“Heroic Journey” in “Secret life of the Bees” Essay
“Heroic Journey” in “Secret life of the Bees”
The classic tale of the hero’s journey can be recognized in almost every situation. It is not only apparent through daily life and historical events, but in this circumstance, a fictional novel, as well. As an epic voyage, it can be recognized in the vast majority of books throughout the course of history. One specific example where it is carefully and intricately exhibited is in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees, in which a young woman’s search for acceptance and the truth becomes a heart-warming chronicle. Through the obstacles and people she meets, Lily is able to experience the trials and self-fulfilling incidents that are required in the hero’s journey she partakes in.
In the first step of the monomyth, the call to adventure, Lily has had a life, up to this point, of pain and suffering for she has grown up with the implication that she shot her mother. Additionally, her father, T. Ray constantly abused her by making her work for him while ignoring her very existence. Lily was thoroughly deprived of her childhood, as well as her innocence, for her father’s complete indignation towards her only compounded the situation. She begins to realize that in order for her to break free of the oppressive life she has and realize her potential, she must leave, in search of the answer to the question that has always haunted her: who was her mother, and what really happened to her?
“Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open…In a matter of seconds I knew exactly what to do- leave” (Kidd 41). Lily knows T. Ray is an abusive father, and that she will never be able to ascertain who she or her mother is without making her journey. This is represented by the archetype of quest for self, ultimately Lily’s main mission throughout the book, through exploration of the Jungian collective unconscious of her mother, she consequently finds the answers she is looking for.
In the second step of the monomyth, the refusal of the call, Lily is on the precipice of departure and abandonment of T. Ray, when she momentarily hesitates. This is the man who made the first 14 years of her life a hellish torture, and yet she is reluctant to separate from him. “…And stood a moment in the center of the room, wondering if I’d ever see it again. ‘Goodbye,’ I said, and there was a tiny sprig of sadness pushing up from my heart” (Kidd 42). Implicitly, she knows that a part of her will die when she leaves his house, for she will be crossing the threshold between oppression and self- determination and reliance.
She recognizes that her entire life is contained in that house, and when she leaves, she is abandoning not only her father, but also the life she once had. Lily knows she probably will never see her home again, and thus she is melancholy with the conflict this represents. This is epitomized by the archetype of the innocent child. While she tries to depart and subsequently make a decision for herself, the weight of that choice becomes apparent to Lily. She is merely a child; ill equipped for such conclusions and her hesitation allows us to witness the child-like purity that lies within. It is the innocence that makes her long for the mom she never had.
In the third step of the monomyth, supernatural aid, Lily walks down the street away from her home with great uncertainty and no prospects, for she has no idea where to go, who to go with, and how to get there. However, everything changes for Lily when she quickly devises a strategy to break Rosaleen out of jail and a plan for a destination. When her mother died, all she had left of her was a box full of memorabilia and pictures, one of which had the name of a town written on the back. Taking this as supernatural sign from above, she bases an important life decision from the back of this picture. “Suddenly I stood still. Tiburon, South Carolina. Of course. The town was written on the back of the Black Mary Picture” (Kidd 43).
Henceforth, Lily had a sense of direction in her quest to find her mother, something to put hope in, that she was ever closer to reuniting with her, in Tiburon. Hope is Lily’s only real reason to keep pressing forward. This part of the monomyth is represented by the archetype of the fairy godmother or the guardian angel. Mary is a perpetual messenger of god, a virtuous woman who represents the very ideals of power, struggle, despair, perseverance, and courage. Mary is considered a religious figure, a woman who sacrificed everything to god. Lily sees the picture of the Black Mary as a sign from heaven that she needs to go to Tiburon, where she will find what she is looking for. Lily puts her trust in god, as the virgin Mary aids her on her quest of self-fulfillment The Mary picture gives her the courage to go to Tiburon in search of her mothers past.
Lily and Rosaleen’s heroic journey takes its first major leap when they escape their old life of hardship and pain, by hitching a ride to Tiburon. This escape represents the crossing of the first threshold that every hero must experience in order to proceed toward their final goal. In this case, Lily’s ultimate objective is to understand and come to terms with her lost mother. Lily and Rosaleen get help crossing the first threshold from an old farmer. “It pointed left, toward a road curving away into silvery darkness. Climbing out of the truck, Rosaleen asked if we could have one of his cantaloupes for supper. ‘Take yourself two,’ he said” (Kidd 50). The generous farmer represents the universal archetype of helping animals. Although he does not actually help any animals, he is arguably, a farmer, and he does help and feed Lily and Rosaleen, who are symbolic for animals. Hitching a ride with a simple farmer only signaled the mere beginning of Lily’s heroic journey, with much more to come.
The belly of the whale is when Lily realizes that she is mentally prepared to start her journey. ” ‘A lot of folks won’t buy it ’cause it’s got the Virgin Mary pictured as a colored women, but see, that’s ’cause the women who makes the honey is colored herself'” (Kidd 64). Lily sees the picture of a colored Virgin Mary as her mother had and intuitively knows that her mother had once been there. There is no turning back after this, no room for cowardice, only courage, because now she has to fulfill her goal and know her history as it converges with her mother’s.
The picture of the Virgin Mary exemplifies the Fairy Godmother archetype because it appeared when Lily needed both a sign and guidance. This is a great example of how the Virgin Mary helps out Lily, and there are many times later that her assistance helps Lily endure with grace. With the help of the virgin Mary Lily is ready to take this journey, she feels god is on her side, and that the Mary picture is ultimately a sign that causes Lily to go to August, where the fruition of Lilys journey comes to pass.
After Lily has started her journey and been in the belly of the whale, a series of tests and trials engage her. Lily’s first test was more of a psychological trial in nature, for it was when she had to first confront the house that potentially contained the knowledge she wanted about her mother. Rosaleen, who represents her mentor and guide, accompanied Lily, just like Athena helps and prays for Odysseus in the Odyssey. When they first arrive on the doorstep, Rosaleen prays for both of them, “I knocked on the door while she muttered a slew of words under her breath: Give me strength… Baby Jesus… Lost our feeble minds” (Kidd 68). Lily and Rosaleen must endure this trial in order to discover the answers to the many questions. The simple fact is that they had no ides what was behind that door, and were willing to put blind fate into the hands of strangers. This is a trial of Lilys will and trust in other people.
Lily’s second trial emerges when she initially understands May’s reaction to emotional pain. The sisters are sharing a little about themselves with Lily and Rosaleen when the topic of their sister who died comes up. “She cried like April’s death had happened only this second” (Kidd 73). Lily finally realizes through this trial that others experience hardships just like she has. May, in this situation, represents the innocent child. She cries like she is just a little girl. When Lily perceives this, it changes the way she looks at things, especially her own problems and even her ultimate goal, knowledge of her mother. We can see this as a deciding factor for Lily in determining her place in the farm. Up until that point Lily did not understand May, but now Lily knows where she comes from, Lily knows and begins to understand Mays pain. And by focusing outward Lily is able to understand and grow inwardly.
Lily’s last trial in her ragged life is psychological beings; it happens during one of Lily’s first major confrontations with August. In August’s story of Beatrix, the nun, August uses this symbol to relate to Lily’s life and give her guidance, “After a while she wished she could return to the convent, but she knew they’d never take her back” (Kidd 91). This is explaining the story of the brave female nun who followed the path of god and saved other along the way. Beatrix is a female inspiration to August as a model for courage and perseverance.
August, who is speaking in this quote, embodies Lily’s mother’s archetype, because she provides direction when her daughter, symbolized by Lily, is confused or in trouble. Lily realizes the basis of Augusts beliefs, and the power of women in religion. She realizes that women are strong, and that as a woman she must strive to fulfill the role of strong leader. This trial is a true factor in deciding how Lily will shape her life, and how she will continue on from there.
The “temptation away from the true path” in this book can quite obviously be recognized as Zach, for he encourages Lily to think things she has never thought before. Unintentionally, their relationship diverts her attention from learning about what has happened to her mother, to trying to figure out what is going to happen between her and Zach. When Lily is driving with Zach and has a daydream that completely distracts her, “I imagined us building a snow cave, sleeping with our bodies twined together to get warm, our arms and legs like black-and-white braids. This last thought shocked my system so bad I shivered” (Kidd 124). In this sense, Zach is a male version of the archetypical temptress. However, as in both Star Wars and The Matrix, Lily is not completely distracted from her main objective for she still is able to discover Deborah’s history. Exhibiting the extent to which she was tempted by the thought of being with Zach, Lily became afraid of the extent of her love for him.
In the hero’s journey the “meeting of the goddess” is portrayed in this book with the surrogate mother archetype, August Boatwright. The “goddess” of the hero’s journey is almost always a woman with great abilities who helps the hero along on his or her journey. This is evident in August, who personifies the surrogate mother archetype exceptionally well, helping Lily in every way that a mother usually would. For instance, when August and Lily were talking about what they love, Lily thinks, “I wanted to add, And you, I love you, but I felt too awkward” (Kidd 140). This illustrates that after only a few weeks she feels love for this surrogate mother she has acquired through August Boatwright. Lily realizes that August is her mother. That by showing compassion for Deborah she is connecting with her old mother Deborah. Lily has embraced August as her new guiding figure in her life.
The ultimate boon in Lily’s journey is when she sees the sign of her mother, in her dream, that lets Lily know that Deborah actually loved her, and didnt want just to abandon her . ” ‘I figured that May must’ve made it to heaven and explained to my mother about the sign I wanted” (Kidd 276). August gives Lily a picture that showed exactly what she wanted all along. This picture was an exact representation her birth mother in the true idea of her being a mother figure. After being disappointed knowing that her mother left her, Lily now feels loved by her mother, even though she may have not been there for her. This is her ultimate boon and even more importantly, the climax of the novel. Seeing this picture gives Lily the strength and courage to move on with her life. Lily forgives her mother for her one big mistake, because she has learned many things about her that mean so much more.
Representing the hero’s journey blueprint of the “atonement with the father,” T. Ray finally finds and reconciles with Lily. This is a very obvious theme for it happens both psychologically and physically. Despite that T. Ray had come to force Lily to return home with him, she was able to apologize for leaving him and, less obviously, he apologized too. He is caught up in an angry rage as he thinks his daughter is really his dead wife who he loved very much even though she ran away from himThis was most apparent when Lily says, “‘DaddyI’m-I’m sorry I left like I did'” (Kidd 295). Clearly, she was able to forgive T. Ray for all he had done to her, and in return he was able to leave without her and still be okay. The stable and tolerable level that Lily establishes with her father represents a height of acceptance that relieves her from the constant weight of his unhappiness. No longer must she be the feeble scapegoat of his anger and resent he feels to Deborah Owens, Lily’s mother.
When Lily refuses to return, she finally stands up to her father for what she desires. Responding to T. Ray harsh statement requesting Lilys return she says, noIm staying here, I said. I’m not leaving'” (Kidd 296). Rather than his needs, Lily finally addresses what she desires. While upsetting T. Ray, it is the best for both of them. She never had a normal or loving life and now she has both with her new family. T. Ray does not want to be reminded of his wife, and without Lily, he is much more able to move on.
This clearly exhibits her refusal of the return and T. Ray as the villain archetype. T. Ray never came close to being a father to Lily; he has always been the villain to her. Henceforth, with the knowledge that she has received about her father, she is able to see him in a new light. Lily now identifies that he must have loved her mother so intensely that when she left him, he was distraught and has never really forgiven her. Transferring his angry feelings about his wife to his treatment of his daughter, T. Ray tries to manage his hurt and rage. With this awareness, Lily is able to move on, let go of her resentment, forgive him and carry on with her own life.
The rescue from without in Lilys journey also occurred when the many different types of women in her life stood up for her. “The front door opened, and Queenie, Violet, Lunelle, and Mabelee stumbled into the house, all wound up and looking like they had their clothes on backward” (Kidd 297). Lily received their help when they created a physical presence of protection, for she could not control her father before they got there. All four different types women were they for Lily when she needed them, without asking questions or concern about danger.
They cared so deeply for her that they dropped everything to ensure she was safe with her father. While these significant women may not actually have been her mother, they collectively represent the mother figure archetype, through providing comfort, direction, and guidance whenever it is needed. She has never had women like them in her life, and now without them, she would not be able to live.
After successfully completing the rescue from without, Lily must achieve the overwhelming crossing of the return threshold. This essential step has a greater influence than expected on Lily herself. By passing over to her intangible victory, Lily Owens learns more of the people she will learn to call family. When T. Ray attempts to bring his daughter back to Sylvan, August stands her ground in a valiant support of Lily’s decision to remain at the calendar sisters’ house and terminate her previous living situation. In a cunning and manipulative persuasion, August reassures Terrence Ray saying, “‘Mr. Owens, you would be doing Lily and the rest of us a favor by leaving her here…We love Lily, and we’ll take care of her. I promise you that'” (Kidd 298).
This guarantee by August was the guiding path for Lily to actually “cross the return threshold” described in the hero’s journey. She, Lily, is victorious in doing so because she no longer has to live with her father, or the villain archetype of the novel. Ironically, by crossing the return threshold Lily physically goes nowhere. It is more of a life decision that an actual change of surroundings. By choosing not to go back to her hometown with T. Ray, Lily is able to complete this step within her heroic voyage and continue onto becoming the master of two worlds.
The interpretation of the master of the two worlds can be comprehended in multiple ways. In this case, Lily becomes the master of both the living and the dead. She does this through the connection she creates with Becca, Clayton’s daughter, and her deceased mother. Referring to her mom’s special remembrances, Lily confirms that, “One day I will let her pick them up…The feeling that they are holy objects is already starting to wear” (Kidd 301). When Lily includes Becca to share her mother’s personal belongings displays that Lily has created a place where the old or “dead” aspect of her can interact with the new or “living” part of her internal spirit through the experiences Lily has. This can be represented by the double archetype. Lily is balancing her physical and mental lives. She constantly thinks of Deborah, and wants to make emends with her, but on the other hand she is also searching for her mother in a physical manifestation. She is looking to August to be her new mother, but still never forget the mother had. In this since she is the master of two worlds, and two mothers.
In the completion of the hero’s journey, Lily must learn to live with absolute freedom. In order to do this she must obtain a certain mentality because her freedom relies solely on her positive outlook and the release of the burdens that have limited her for so long. The stable and tolerable level that Lily establishes with her father represents a height of acceptance that relieves her from the constant weight of his unhappiness. No longer must she be the feeble scapegoat of his anger and resent he feels to Deborah Owens, Lily’s mother. For the entirety of her adolescence Lily has been unconsciously and consciously foraging for a mother figure to fulfill the ache she carries deep inside her heart, and to complete her long and hardened journey. For a child to comprehend that the responsibility of their parental figure’s death is their own burden, is awfully determining to the character herself.
In this position Lily cannot fathom that her main cause of suffering, the lack of a mother, is her accountability. However, the rock of burdens is lifted with her sign that she receives from her mother. In reference to the Daughters, Lily thinks to herself, “All these mothers. I have more mothers than any eight girls off the street. They are the moons shinning over me” (Kidd 302). More than happy to give her all the love and care, the Daughters complete the freed sense to live for Lily. By obtaining the picture of the angelic mother and smiling child, her mother and her, Lily is able to sense that she is liberated from the sentence she has been serving for over fourteen years. Desperate for the guidance and support of a mother, Lily turns to the Daughters of Mary to fill the absent persona.
Exemplified in this chronicle quest the “Hero’s Journey” is evident in Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees. Lily, the adolescent protagonist of this novel, travels in search of self-fulfillment and accomplishes the requirements if the heros journey, The heros journey helped Lily to grow not only in expierences but also mentally. Kidd specifically developed Lily as a persona and the novel to parallel the psychological expedition of the standard hero, This angle and outlook of the journey allows the reader to connect and relate to the character, because we see so many examples of heros in our everyday society. The Secret Life of Bees is highly unusual because the majority of heros stories have extreme condition with are unfathomable to the average person.
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. Boston: Penguin (Non-Classics), 2003.