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Free Online Summary Notes for The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
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Major Theme

Secret Lives

The major theme of this novel is expressed in its title, which comes from a statement made by August: “Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about” (148). Throughout the novel, the reader learns how most characters are not what they seem on the surface. People’s lives are usually much more complex and complicated than they appear.

Minor Themes

Refer to the Overall Analysis Section for additional information on the Minor Themes

Fortunate Coincidences and Signs Mothers Race Death Gives Way to Life


Serious/ Inspirational. The mood of this novel is frequently serious because it treats a series of somber issues: verbal and physical abuse, racial discrimination and violence, and death. However, Kidd punctuates these grave moments with humor and the desire of the characters to overcome. Because the characters are able to meet the many challenges they face and -for the most part--each has a positive outcome, the overall feeling of this novel is inspirational. This plot demonstrates how community, love, faith, and friendship help the human spirit to survive anything.


Sue Monk Kidd was born and raised in Sylvester, Georgia, on a plot of land settled by her great-grandparents some 200 years ago. While Sue had always wanted to be a writer, she decided to become a nurse because of the cultural climate of the 1960s, as well as her own fears of failure. Sue went to Texas Christian University (TCU), where she received a Nursing degree in 1970. She worked as a registered nurse throughout her twenties. She married Sanford (Sandy) Kidd and had two children, Bob and Ann.

At thirty-years old Sue became a freelance writer, working on non-fiction pieces about her life experiences. Sue began writing about Christian spirituality and then, in her early forties, feminist theology.

Sue’s early desire to write fiction returned and she enrolled in a graduate writing seminar and visited writers’ conferences. In 1997 she began her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees followed by her second novel, The Mermaid Chair.

The Secret Life of Bees has sold over four million copies to date and spent over two years on the New York Times bestsellers list.

Sue has stated that she drew inspiration from the honeybees that lived in a wall of her house in Georgia while she was growing up. She remembers the humming sound of the bees and the honey that seeped out of the wall. She said that she imagined a young girl lying in bed with bees sifting through the cracks in the wall and the thoughts that may have surrounded her life. That personal experience provided a background for the novel. Though she doesn't believe that any of the characters are drawn specifically from her own life, she did draw from details and recollections of her adolescence for the actions and mannerisms of many of the characters.

Sue Monk Kidd lives near Charleston, South Carolina today and continues to write.

Her published works include:

God's Joyful Surprise: Finding Yourself Loved
All Things Are Possible
Love's Hidden Blessings: God Can Touch Your Life When You Least Expect It (1990)
When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions (1990)
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (2002)
A Luminous Presence: One Woman's Awakening to the Inner Life

The Secret Life of Bees (2002)
The Mermaid Chair


This novel is set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement in the particularly tumultuous summer of 1964. The movement for civil rights, though always important, came to a political head during this period in American history. At this time, the rights of minorities were called into question with regard to "equal rights" under the U.S. Constitution.

Many groups of minorities in America, especially blacks (African-Americans) believed that they had been denied the basic human rights provided for other American citizens (namely white people) under the U.S. Constitution through the terrible bonds of slavery and racism that existed for so many years during and after the formation of this country. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, many civil rights activists were concerned that the important work he had initiated for American minorities would not be continued in the federal government and would be lost with the end of his presidency. However, they were pleasantly surprised when upon his first address to Congress on November 27, 1963, the new President, Lyndon Baines Johnson urged for the passage of a civil rights bill that would continue the progress made under President Kennedy.

The original purpose of the congressional bill, which ultimately became law as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, was to provide protection for black men from discrimination based upon race. However at the last minute, in an attempt to kill the bill, it was expanded to protect women from discrimination as well. Under this act, the infamous "Jim Crow" laws were legally abolished and racial segregation was declared abolished.

The Civil Rights Act passed and became law, however, as illustrated in the story, many whites were angered by the Civil Rights Act and continued to treat African Americans cruelly and racial tensions continued, despite the action and progress addressed in the new laws. Racism still persists as a bold part of American society, despite political movements and social change.



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