In Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, August acts as the unorthodox religious leader of the Daughters of Mary and contributes to Lily’s character and growth. August proves to be a leader, and a positive influence towards Lily in every action she performs. She welcomes Lily, a white girl, into her house during the 1960s, a time when racial segregation was prominent. By doing so, August goes against the popular social views, and Jeopardizes her reputation for Lily. August teaches Lily many life lessons such as love, hope, and the importance of religion.
Because of August, Lily becomes stronger, and more aware of the society in which she lives in. August’s religious leadership is demonstrated throughout the novel because of her courageous character. Back in Sylvan, Lily was exposed to racism and segregation even in her church. A church is built on universal values that are above prejudice and discrimination, yet Brother Gerald rejects this fundamental principle. When Rosaleen entered Lilys church, Brother Gerald was astonished and indirectly scolded Lily for allowing Rosaleen to come in.
Even when Rosaleen asked to borrow a fan due to the incredibly hot weather, Brother Gerald refused to give her one solely she was black. On the other hand, when Lily showed up at August’s front door, she was welcomed to stay. August, an African American, greeted Lily as if she was family, even though she was a complete stranger. August paid no attention to the fact that Lily was white, but instead followed her religious principles that were built upon the idea of helping others and being fair to all human beings.
Even though August practices an unconventional religion, she exhibits positive behavior that God would find acceptable, unlike Brother Gerald who practices an established religion but performs acts of unfairness and inequality. August is a true leader because she goes against the immoral and unethical practices of her society, and welcomes Lily into her house. Likewise, August contributes much to Lilys growth, and facilitates her transformation into a mature young woman.
August changed Lilys way of thinking, rom the beginning of the novel, because she was able to maintain a successful bee business even though she was an African American. The citizens of Tiburon respect August because of her amazing Black Madonna honey, which is an unusual act during this time because of all the discrimination against the blacks. Furthermore, August enlightens Lily spiritually by teaching her about the Lady of Chains, and how she helped many blacks during their hardships. The story of the Lady of Chains gave Lily hope and belief in a deity, and this is apparent because Lily asked the Lady of
Chains for guidance and strength before she spoke to August about her mother. Additionally, August teaches Lily, in a roundabout way, the meaning of protection and real love. For instance, when Lily reveals to August her true identity, August says she already knew who Lily was all along. August chose to wait until Lily felt comfortable with speaking about her mother, so that she would be accepting instead of overreacting. All of these factors contributed to Lily’s growth, and allowed her to understand life’s principles in this racially divided era.