What Is the Role of Black Mary Image in the Novel?
Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees features a cast of strong black women, the most influential being Black Mary. Despite being inanimate, Black Mary nevertheless serves as the catalyst of the story. Black Mary inspires the black community of Tiburon, and it is the Black Mary label that leads Lilly on a journey to understand her past. Ultimately, Black Mary symbolizes a surrogacy that overcomes barriers of class and race, demonstrating that anyone can love and anyone can be loved.
Because Lilly’s mother died when she was young, Lilly’s perceptions about femininity (and blackness) stem from interactions with her maid, Rosaleen. Lilly relearns how to understand black femininity as she interacts with the “calendar sisters,” who exhibit a refined, learned nature that catches her off guard.
The Boatwrights make Lilly question what motherhood truly entails. Where her biological mother abandoned her before she died, the Boatwrights take her in without question. Lilly explicitly prays to Black Mary to help her heal from the loss of her mother (Monk Kidd, 2011, p. 164). Throughout the story, Black Mary serves as the emblem of the kindness and power of black women.
Black Mary cements a theme of surrogacy throughout the novel. As Herbert describes, Black Mary is “divine feminine wisdom and strength that already enables Lily to deal with her father’s abusive treatment and guilt over her mother’s death” (2011, p.25). Ostensibly Lilly uses the Black Mary label to find more about her mother. Instead she finds a community willing to love Lilly as she is.
Hebert, Joy A. (2011). “A Critical Study of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees.” Thesis, Georgia State University.
Monk Kidd, S. (2011). The Secret Life of Bees. New York: Penguin Publishing Group.