The Secret Life of Bees
Sue Monk Kidd
Contributed by Vernita Mires
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Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.
Our Lady of Chains Statue

The statue of Mary is symbolic on two levels. On one level, it is an obvious representation of The Blessed Mother, an important Catholic icon. In this sense, the women are not praying to the actual statue, but to whom it represents. On another lever, this statue (or Mary) represents all women’s need for a mother--or for guidance and strength. Our Lady of Chains is mother and queen to the women in the novel. Mary is frequently called “The Queen of Heaven” and as their “queen,” Mary provides a guiding force for the women. As August tells Lily, Mary is also a source of strength, which can be found within.

The Whale Pin

The whale pin that T. Ray gave to Deborah is symbolic of T. Ray’s complexity. T. Ray gave Deborah this pin when they were dating. August tells Lily that T. Ray treated Deborah like a princess. Lily is shocked to hear that T. Ray was not always a cruel man. Lily wears the pin when she confronts T. Ray. During this confrontation, T. Ray changes again. T. Ray momentarily experiences the rage and sadness he felt when Deborah left him. He acquiesces to Lily’s demand to stay with August. Finally, when Lily asks him the truth about her part in Deborah’s death, she notes that he softens a bit.

The whale pin and the story it carries with it help develop the main theme of the novel, which is that people’s lives are usually much more complex and complicated than they appear.

Lily has always assumed T. Ray is a mean man by nature; she never considered why he might be that way. The whale pin illustrates that, at one time, he was kind and gentle. However, T. Ray’s heart was broken and he has been bitter ever since.

Lily’s New Room

Lily’s new bedroom symbolizes her new life. Lily says that she could not have dreamed of this room, which is filled with the loving touches of the women in her life. This room is filled with things that have belonged to women that Lily loves as well as new things. Lily also keeps the picture of her mother feeding her next to her bed. These items are symbolic of what Lily’s new life is comprised of. The items from the other women show how Lily is surrounded by love in her new female community. 

The new space and new things show that she has a fresh start filled with promise. The picture Deborah feeding her shows that Lily has chosen to remember her mother as loving her. It is important that Lily chooses to frame this picture and not the first picture she had of Deborah, onto which Lily projected the myths she created of her mother. 

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