When asking about the factors that form one’s personality, people will mostly respond by referring to certain events and persons who made the biggest influence in their lives. Definitely, there are major events that made people’s lives turn in a certain manner. Nevertheless, it is also true that the small minor details, which sometimes go unnoticed and forgotten, will make an impact that in the long term will shape us the way we are.
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Sometimes, it might be called the butterfly effect, where minor events in the past lead to major consequences in the future, and sometimes it might be called fate. Regardless of the definition, it is the people and the events, the combination of which leads the person to be who they are. It might be argued that the absence of a particular character in the life course would not have changed anything on a major scale, but nevertheless, the importance of such details cannot be argued. In terms of literary work, such details can be similarly paralleled, where some minor characters have minor roles in the works but their influence on the development of the major characters can be traced.
In that sense, following the previous outlines, the book “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd introduces several major and minor characters who play a role in the life of the book’s heroine, Lily Melissa Owens. This paper analyzes the influence of minor characters, stating that they played a major role in the novel.
The main plot of the book can be summarized as the story of the fourteen-year-old Lily, who lost her mother when she was a child. It is a story of losses and findings, where the concept of choosing what is important in life can be the basis of sifting from childhood into adult life.
The character of Lily’s mother- Deborah can be accepted as a minor one, only due to the fact that she is literary absent in the novel. The novel’s narration starts long after Deborah was killed accidentally by Lily when she was four years old. Nevertheless, it can be seen that the character of Deborah, who can be said to be unknown to Lily, is the driving force behind most of her actions. The journey to unveil the truth about her mother is one of such influences.
Additionally, the feeling of guilt before her mother is also the main prism through which Lily recalls her mother. In that sense, Lily’s memory is connected to Deborah, where flashbacks of her can seem to appear every time Lily recognizes a familiar scene; “I looked at the floor and the walls with brand new eyes. My mother had walked about in this room. A real person. Not somebody I made up but a living, breathing person.” (174) Thus it can be seen that, Deborah’s character was the main background of the book, where Lily collected small pieces of information about her mother during the course of the narration, with the culmination knowing the truth about her role in her mother’s death; “It was you who did it, Lily. You didn’t mean it, but it was you.” (299)
The character of Mrs. Henry can be said to have a great influence on Lily in the book. Although this influence cannot be apparent, in comparison to the other characters and events, the building of Lily’s confidence had started with Mrs. Henry’s words. It was especially obvious through Lily’s reasoning when she thought that beauty college would be the upper limit of her career. (Kidd 15). As a reply to such incertitude, Mrs. Henry replied, “Do you have any idea how smart you are? You could be a professor or a writer with actual books to your credit.”(16)
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It also can be seen that the influence of Mrs. Henry acted as a counterbalance to the influence of T.Ray, Lily’s father, who always tried to lower her self esteem; “Who do you think you are, Julius Shakespeare?” (16) Additionally, the books where the ground upon which she fantasized about escaping from her abusive father; “Mrs. Henry made us read portions of Walden Pond, and afterward I’d had fantasies of going to a private garden where T. Ray would never find me.”(57)
Other characters that influenced Lily are a group of religious practitioners called Daughters of Mary. This group can be accepted as one character as distinguishing between their participants plays a minor role in the book. However, the group as a whole has a great influence on Lily to understand August, a black woman who sheltered Lily and created this so-called religion. Through the meetings organized by this group, Lily also became more aware of the problems of race, where her acceptance in the group played a role in raising her perception of the world; “I started thinking about the world loaded with disguised Marys sitting around all over the place and hidden red hearts tucked about that people could rub and touch, only we didn’t recognize them” (142).
Additionally, Daughters of Mary played a great role in the dialogue between Lily and her father, where their total support for her along with their obvious determination, shown in their “clutching their pocketbooks up against their bodies like they might have to use them to beat the living hell out of somebody”( 297), was one the main factors for her fathers to retreat and leave Lily alone.
It can be seen through the analysis some characters were like the bees in the novel. Only when they were grouped they had an effect. Outlining a single character is not as influenced as the combination of all the small things that made Lily who she was.
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. Penguin (Non-Classics), 2003.