Little Bee shows characters undergoing extreme transformations. It's about the marks that grief and suffering can leave, and about how some characters can transform sadness into beauty, while other succumb to despair. The novel looks at how psychological and physical transformations interact. The loss of Sarah's middle finger, Charlie's Batman disguise, and Little Bee's cloaking of her beauty and femininity in the detention center are some good examples. In each case, the characters' physical transformations are manifestations of deep inner changes. Of course, only Sarah's physical transformation is permanent. Charlie and Little Bee are able to re-transform when their disguises are no longer needed. Sarah, on the other hand, wears her transformation on her body, for everyone to see.
The novel, by raising awareness, also seeks transformation of society. It argues that serious reform is needed – at individual and institutional levels – in how we think about and treat asylum seekers and other immigrants.