How would you describe Lily’s feelings about her mother? Do they change throughout the novel? Lily loves her mother very much and misses her lot, especially when she can’t sleep. The guilt she feels for her role in Deborah’s death haunts her. Later when Lily learns that her perfect, fantasy mother abandoned her she quickly grows to resent her mother for leaving her with T. Ray. Finally she comes to terms with her real mother, a flawed, complex, very real person. As a result of all these revelations, Lily’s relationship with her deceased mother, Deborah, is very complicated.
When the Secret Life of Bees starts, Lily loves her mother very much and blames herself for her mother’s death. As stated on page 52, “My mother’s name was Deborah. I thought it was the prettiest name I had ever heard…” Lily spends a lot of time thinking about her and fantasizing. She creates a perfect mother in her mind, a mother who would make her pretty and happy. When she finds some of her mother’s gloves in the attic, “I feel foolish about it now, but one time I stuffed the gloves with cotton balls and held them through the night. ” (p. 5)
Because nobody in her community is willing to talk to her about her mother she is clinging on to whatever part of her she can get, even if it is just a pair or old gloves. The guilt of her mother’s death is also present when she says, “This is what I know about myself. She was all I wanted. And I took her away. ” (p. 40) She is overwhelmed with emotions and has no way to effectively deal with them other than let her feelings boil and fester inside of her. This combination of unlimited love and regret reflect how Lily feels for about the first half of the novel.
Later, Lily’s feelings for her mother change drastically when August admits that Deborah abandoned her with her abusive father instead of taking Lily with her to Tiburon. As she puts it, ‘Unwanted’, I thought. ‘I was an unwanted baby’ (p. 628), and, “My mother had left me. ” (p. 634) This admission and realization throws Lily into a whole world of hurt. Instead of the glorious, perfect, loving mother she though Deborah had been, she is appalled to find that her mother is far from flawless. Lily realizes, “I’d spent most of my life imagining all the ways she’d love me, what a perfect specimen of a mother she was.
All of it was lies. I had completely made her up. ” (p. 635) In fact Deborah was suffering from severe depression. As August put it, “When I picked her up at the bus station, she didn’t even look like herself. She had gotten so thin and had these dark circles under her eyes. ” (p. 633) In shock and feeling betrayed, Lily finishes her conversation with August hating her mother. Finally, Lily had to come to terms with her mother’s abandoning her and with the new, flawed image that is now emerging.
As she says, “I’d traded a pack of lies for a pack of truths, and I didn’t know which one was heavier. ” (p. 25) She is confused and stuck between hating her mother for leaving her and being disgusted with herself for feeling this way. She describes it as; “I felt my heart in my chest. It hurt so badly. Like it had been stepped on. ” (p. 655) However when August gives Lily a collection of her mother’s possessions, she finds a photo of her and Deborah that allows her to finally begin to move on. In it, “her face was tipped toward mine, our noses just touching, how wide and gorgeous her smile was, like sparklers going off…I figured May must’ve made it to heaven and explained to my mother about the sign I wanted.
The one that would let me know I was loved. ”(pgs 693-694) In a way Lily’s feeling about her mother, however complicated, come almost full circle. While she starts off with loving a fantasy, her dreams are soon crushed when she learns the bitter truth about her mother. With time comes acceptance however, and Lily soon begins to allow herself to love and lose the new version of Deborah, flawed yes, but still a version filled with love and hope.
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