The Secret Life of Bees, written by Sue Monk Kidd in 2001, is a young adult novel set during the Civil Rights Movement Era in 1964. In the book, the main character Lily recounts the summer she turned 14, and how her life had drastically changed in that one summer. She runs away with Rosaleen, her stand-in mother, from Sylvan, South Carolina to Tiburon, South Carolina and stays with three sisters, August, June, and May, who have a beekeeping business. Kidd made me admire May in particular because she’s a gentle, caring soul and depressed.
May is gentle in the way that she could never bring herself to harm a single living thing,”You didn’t step on a roach in front of [May], did you?” (P. 153). She would rather build a “little highway of broken graham crackers and marshmallow bits” across the floor that would lead to the door instead of killing a roach, stating that “The roaches will follow this out the door.
It works every time.” (P. 249 and 250). This would mean that she constantly does this despite any inconvenience it may cause simply because she cares for all living things, a very admirable trait. She didn’t allow rat traps in the house because “she couldn’t even bear the thought of a suffering rat,” (P. 126) further proving she cares for all living things. Another way that May is gentle, whenever something upsets her, she begins to hum “Oh! Susanna” to try to make herself feel better (P. 126). I like the idea of it, and I think it’s good that she tries to make herself feel okay again that way.
Not only does May care for the well being of animals and insects, but she greatly cares for her sisters and wishes the best for them. Near the beginning of the story, May becomes upset that June won’t marry Neil, however, even after she died, she still managed to influence June to marry Neil and be happy with him, “Like May said, it’s your time to live. Don’t mess it up.” (P. 305). After August read aloud May’s suicide note and told June to listen to what May said, June finally said yes when Neil proposed again soon after (P. 319). I like the fact that even though she was in an “unreachable place inside herself,” she still managed to write that note to her sisters to comfort them and try to help them understand and be at peace with her decision to commit suicide May used to have a twin sister named April who committed suicide when she was fifteen. The years prior to that, she was having “terrible depressions,” and “whatever she was feeling, May was feeling [too].” August explained to Lily that, “When April died, something in May died, too. She never was normal after that. It seemed like the world itself became May’s twin sister.” (P. 143). This explains why May is how she is, and why she gets upset so easily. She gets upset so often that she has her own wall that she goes to whenever she cries, where she’d write on a piece of paper what she’s upset about and put it in the little cracks in the wall that she built herself (P. 141).
I like the concept of the wall, even though May doesn’t necessarily deal with her problems, she can at least lift it off her shoulders for a time being. “Going out there was about the only thing that could bring her around.” (P. 126), although it’s a temporary fix, it helps May immensely. Because of the difficulties May went through throughout the story, i feel like she’s the most realistic and relatable character and that’s why i admire her.