The Moral Dilemmas of Little Bee

Hi there! 

After my social studies final today I devoured the end of Chris Cleave’s book Little Bee. I just want to say that it’s a really amazing story, and it shouldn’t be ruined by bloggers like me (just as the back of the book says). But here is what happens, in a very general way, also similar to the back of the book: two women, from very different lives. Their paths cross, and as much or little as either of them want to, neither can forget. However, everything is brought back to life when Little Bee and Sarah meet again, five years after their lives first crossed. And now, in a very different, much more highly complex scenario, the two have to work together to figure things out; both between themselves on what happened that day, how it affected the fate of Sarah’s husband Andrew, and how they will continue with their futures. 

It’s really a beautiful book. The writing of it is overall pretty fantastic. If I were to criticize one thing, though, it would be the way that Cleave switches voices between chapters. This was especially confusing at the beginning of the book, when I didn’t know why the apparent life of this character suddenly shifted. Another book that does this is Sarah’s Key (no purposeful coincidence in character names) by Tatiana de Rosnay. I highly encourage you to read that as well. But one thing Rosnay does that Cleave does not is fully distinguish between time periods, at least, by putting notes at the top of the start of chapters. She does not say the characters, but Julia’s part is written in first person whereas Sarah’s part is written in third. In Little Bee, both narratives are written in first, and there is no distinguishing prior. I ultimately just figured out that the odd-numbered chapters were Bee and the even-numbered ones were Sarah. As well, by the way that they wrote and the matters that they spoke of, it became no problem to tell the two apart. At the beginning it was kind of hard. 

The thing that struck me most about Little Bee was how in-depth all of the characters were. I feel that as readers, and as humans, we connect ourselves to characters in one way or another. This helps us mentally understand them better, and see why they made specific decisions. When we cannot connect to characters, we dislike them more, or they simply feel impersonal. Sometimes we attest that to bad writing. Usually, it’s not bad writing though. It’s simply that we don’t feel related to that character. 

I found it hard, as I was reading Little Bee, to connect myself to one character specifically. Part of this was that their lives were so far-fetched from mine. And part of it was that Chris Cleave had gone so deep with them that what I first thought relatable was now completely distant. I asked myself:

Would I be Little Bee, running as a fugitive from my past, seeing death around every corner? Would I find in the world that sometimes a suicide is better than torture and a slow, painful death, and look for it around every corner? Would I die inside and be reborn, given a new name and new hope? And how would I be reborn? By a stranger saving my life? With a chance of escape? By trying to make things right?

Would I be Sarah, torn apart with grief and sorrow, but very much in the present too? Would I see the past in the shadows, lurking around like the ghost of the finger I’d lost? Would I break down, crying, realizing just how complicated and seemingly hopeless the situation is? Would I put my life out on a limb for someone, no matter how close or how far?

Would I be Lawrence, living in two different worlds at once? Would I tell the truth, the whole and honest truth, to the people I love, both ethically wrong and right? What side of me would dominate- the government worker, bound by vague ethics to the organization, following the letter of the law? Or the lover, the passionate one, who wants only to see happiness in Sarah’s eyes, no matter the personal cost?

Would I be Charlie, young, naive, and innocent? Would I escape my fears of the world, of my father’s death, by putting on a mask and cape and responding only to “Batman”? Would my life now be as simple as finding the goodies and fighting the baddies?

These questions plagued me as I read Little Bee, and now more than ever they define themselves clearly. I have realized that this is what Chris Cleave wanted to achieve- a lifelike situation, with people in it and creating it that have problems and hard times and moral issues. It debates the whole idea of “what humans will do to other humans to gain money and power.” These are what make the book fabulous. These are why you should read it. 

However, I am off to read something else. After having read The Things They Carried, most of Romeo and Juliet (to be finished this weekend!), and Little Bee consecutively, I need a break. So I indulge myself, and get to have a little bit of one of my favorite authors, Kim Edwards, in a new book for me, The Lake of Dreams. I’ll get to reading that and post on it later. And as interesting and wonderful to read about as the moral dilemmas in Little Bee are, I hope none of them happen before I post next.



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