Most southern gothic literature deals with the disturbed and flawed characters; one of the most famous writers of this genre is Edgar Allan Poe. The southern gothic genre is characterized by grotesque, gruesome, or unbelievable incidents. The southern gothic genre is portrayed in many ways. Lily, the main character, goes through many difficult life experiences and learns many tough lessons. This book does not have a happy ending like a fairy tale, but would be better represented like life, without many smooth edges. Also, because this book’s setting is in South Carolina in the nineteen-sixties, racism is involved. The Secret Life of Bees represents the southern gothic genre because it contains racism, flawed characters, and social realism.
As a part of the definition of the southern gothic genre, racism is involved within The Secret Life of Bees and is either shown as irrational or is shown through the segregation of color. Racism is used frequently because the main character associates herself with people not of her color and the people around her see this as wrong. June says, “But she’s white, August. (Kidd 87)” this shows that racism is shown using white and black references. The main character also realizes the irrationality of racism when a cop suggests, “Take my advice and call your aunt and tell her to come on and get you. These are colored people here. You understand what I’m saying?” I wrinkled up my forehead. ‘No sir I’m afraid I don’t. (Kidd 198)’” While living amongst three black women Lily becomes “color-blind” and only sees people for their personality. Southern gothic literature is defined as such, because it is mostly written during the time of the Civil Rights Movement where racism is a big part of the south.
The southern gothic genre is a subtopic of gothic genre, and those particular elements are shown through flawed characters in the literature. Flawed characters can either be shown as disturbed, abused, or mentally disabled. Two of the main characters classified as flawed would be Lily and May. Lily is abused by her father and this causes many problems in her life, for example T-Ray makes Lily kneel on grits which is a painful punishment for bad behavior and he also makes her feel guilty about the many accidents that she has caused. Lily’s flaws develop as she gets older causing her to feel insecure and for her to be emotionally unstable. However, May is disturbed, and her story is told when these flaws are first acted upon, “She was upset over a Negro man named Mr. Raines who was killed by a shotgun from a passing car in Georgia… May rocked back and forth, slapping her arms and scratching at her face. I’d never seen her like this, and it frightened me. (Kidd 89)” Sue Monk Kidd, the author of The Secret Life of Bees, shows this genre through flawed characters by developing their flaws and either abruptly ending them or slowly resolving them.
Through the characters and the reality of the predicaments of the story, social realism is shown. Characters can be a part of social realism because they are not stereotypical. Zach is a character like no other, Kidd even states through Zach, “You gotta imagine what’s never been. (Kidd 121)” “There was nothing white about Zachary Lincoln Taylor. If he was shocked over me being white, I was shocked over him being handsome… and him wanting to be a lawyer, (Kidd 116 & 121) during this time this was unrealistic for a colored person. Creating southern gothic literature, Kidd not only did this, but also created realistic fiction. Unlike fairy-tales as August says, “There is nothing perfect… there is only life. (Kidd 256)” Of the situations of The Secret Life of Bees, many could be a part of an actual person’s life such as family-issues, racism, and death.
The Secret Life of Bees depicts the southern gothic genre by containing racism, flawed characters, and social realism. This book holds racism to be irrational but still present during the time period of the nineteen-sixties. Flawed characters, like Lily and May, are also shown to develop the plot further and to show different plots of the story. In some southern gothic literature, such as The Secret Life of Bees, this genre could also be seen as realistic fiction because it contains social realism. Both the factors of flawed characters and social realism show that this genre is a subtopic of the main heading, gothic genre. The southern gothic genre is a complicated, dark genre of literature which can hold, like within The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, life lessons.