Study Guide

Little Bee (The Other Hand) Quotes

  • Love

    "Is you getting baddies?"

    "Are we getting baddies, Charlie. Not is we."

    "Are you?"

    "Yes, Batman. Yes, that's exactly what we're doing." (2.36-39)

    This conversation takes place when Charlie catches Sarah and Andrew making love the morning Little Bee is released from the detention center, after she calls Andrew on the phone. Charlie is only four, but he intuits that his parents' lovemaking is to try to make Andrew, who is severely depressed, feel better. Sarah describes it as a form of necessary maintenance, something she does to keep her household running smoothly. Not too sexy, but sometimes love, or trying to love, just isn't, even when sex is involved.

    "Really. I don't love Lawrence. How could I? Let's make a fresh start, hmmm?" (4.168)

    This is what Little Bee hears Sarah tell Andrew on the beach in Nigeria, where Andrew and Sarah are running from Sarah's affair. Notice that Sarah says she doesn't love Lawrence, but she doesn't say that she plans on giving up the guy. Whatever the case, she doesn't give up Lawrence, and seems to be in some kind of love with him.

    "It's okay to still love Andrew, you know. It's okay with me anyway." (4.345)

    Is Lawrence's statement manipulative, loving, both, or something else entirely? For that matter, does he go to Sarah after the funeral because he wants to support her, or because he wants to prey on her right when she's vulnerable? Because Lawrence is such an ambiguous character, it's hard to pin down most of his motivations. He also seems really sneaky.

    <em>Ask her to leave</em>, Lawrence had said. But no, no, I couldn't. We were joined by what had happened on the beach. Getting rid of her would be like losing a part of me. (4.465)

    Sarah is beginning to love Little Bee like she's family. Lawrence's desire to see Little Bee go makes some readers not love him so much.

    "Your mummy saved my life, did you know that? She saved me from the baddies." (5.197)

    Little Bee wants Charlie to understand what a special, <em>loving</em> person Sarah is. Although some readers don't like Sarah for various reasons, she's a superhero to Little Bee. Also, who knows when Charlie last heard something nice about his mom? We gather Andrew wasn't exactly lavishing her with praise and compliments. Little Bee is giving a gift, helping Charlie love his mother by showing that she is loved.

    "If you want me to stay, this is how it will be between us. […] But while I am here […] I will love you as if you were my mother and I will love Charlie as if he was my brother." (5.211)

    Little Bee has a calm and devoted love for Sarah and Charlie. Her conflict over whether or not staying with Sarah is best for Sarah suggests that her motives are pretty pure.

    Handing out in flight meals in a plane crash. That's what our affair was meant to be. (6.147)

    Sarah's observation suggests that her life is already on the verge of disaster when she starts the affair. She gets the metaphor from Little Bee, who heard it from a doctor in the detention center. He was using it to refer to the services being provided to the refugees in the center.

    But to really escape from Andrew, to really become myself, I had to go the whole way and fall in love. (6.148)

    Love, of course, is defined differently for each person. Since her affair with Lawrence isn't the focal point of the novel, we don't get a deep sense of their relationship. Or, at the very least, their relationship seems shallow. At the same time, Sarah's comment does suggest she loves him, whatever that love means to her.

    Because we still haven't done enough to save her, Charlie. I thought we had, but we need to do more. And we will do more, darling. We will. We won't ever give up on Little Bee. Because she is part of our family now. (11.215)

    At the end of the novel, Sarah has surrendered to loving Little Bee. It's so ironic that Little Bee, one of the most loveable people ever, is so dangerous to love at the same time. Sarah is also trying hard to teach her son what she's learned about love from her relationship with Little Bee.

    That was when I stood up and I started to run toward Charlie. <em>Don't shoot, don't shoot, I AM THE ONE THAT YOU WANT</em> […]. (11.223)

    Here, Little Bee shows her love for Charlie in the most dramatic fashion, putting herself between the child and the soldiers with guns.

    "That is it. Udo means, peace. Do you know what peace is, Charlie?"

    Charlie shook his head.

    "Peace is the time when people can tell each other their real names." (11.240-11.242)

    We think peace is a kind of love, for sure. Here, Little Bee lives up to her given name with a simple act – revealing her real name to Charlie to help him be able to use <em>his</em> real name again, and begin to move past the guilt he feels over his father's death.

  • Mortality

    Apparently she let him know she was coming […]. Five days later he killed himself by hanging. They found my husband with his feet treading empty air, touching the soil of no country. (2.3)

    This novel doesn't hold back. Without getting gory, it gives us some solid tastes of gruesome death. This is also our first hint that Andrew's death has something to do with Little Bee.

    "Mummy! Get him out OUT! Get mine daddy out of heaven!" (2.201)

    This is right before Charlie jumps into the hole in the ground on top of his father's coffin. Charlie is smart enough to know that his daddy's body is in the coffin. Since Sarah keeps telling him Daddy is in heaven, Charlie's conclusion – that the coffin is heaven – is actually pretty logical. What would you tell Charlie if you were Sarah? How might you explain death to a four-year-old kid?

    In the immigration detention center, they told us we must be disciplined to overcome our fears. This is the discipline I learned: whenever I go into a new place, I work out how I would kill myself there. (3.8)

    We have to read what happens to Little Bee's sister before we really understand why Little Bee does this. She was forced to listen while her sister was raped, beaten, and dismembered. She also witnessed such atrocities when her village was destroyed, though she doesn't provide those details. Her suicidal thoughts are a way to feel in control of her situation in any way possible. She would prefer to die by her own hand than by torture at the hands of another. How do you feel about this?

    For the first six months of the detention center, I screamed every night and in the day I imagined a thousand ways to kill myself. (3.10)

    Death is on Little Bee's mind at almost every moment in the story. After witnessing the death of her family, and the beating, rape, and murder of her sister, she is acutely aware of her own mortality. We learn that her plans to kill herself are motivated not by a desire to die, but by a need to avoid being raped and tortured.

    [The girl with no name] had hanged herself from one of the long chains that reached up to the roof. (3.383)

    The girl with no name is so traumatized that releasing her from the detention center seems to actually have an adverse effect on her. She suffers flashbacks of the horrors she's experienced and witnessed. The pressure of being on the street with nowhere to go only exacerbates her condition. It's possible that if she'd had a social worker and a support system, she wouldn't have killed herself, but we can't know this for sure.

    My sister, my mother, my father and my uncle. Every face I see I am looking for them in it. (3.401)

    Little Bee's entire family is dead, but her memories of them remain strong. If you've ever lost someone close to you (to death or otherwise), you may have experienced something like what Little Bee does. These lines give us a sense of the deep loneliness she's carrying around.

    "Near the end I heard Nkiruka begging to die. I heard the hunters laughing. Then I listened to my sisters bones being broken one by one." (5.25)

    Little Bee's description of her sister's torture and death is almost too much for Sarah to hear. But, she knows she has to face the truth – however ugly – if she wants to gain back any sense of stability in her life.

    "I left Sarah's husband hanging in the air." (7.139)

    Is Little Bee responsible, on some level, for Andrew's suicide? Did she torment him into insanity, or does the very fact that he couldn't tell whether she was real suggest that he would have gone down that road with or without her? After he put his neck in the noose, would there <em>really</em> have been time for someone to help him if she'd called for help? Do you think less of Little Bee because Andrew died while she was trying to decide whether to help him, or not?

    "Yes, because if I is not Batman <em>all the time</em> then mine daddy dies." (9.94)

    Charlie's revelation to Little Bee is pretty stunning, especially considering that Andrew is already dead. Charlie, we learn, feels entirely responsible for his father's suicide. Andrew dies while Charlie is at nursery school. Charlie thinks that if he (as Batman) had been home, he could have saved Andrew. Giving up his Batman identity (at least during swim time) seems to be a step toward getting past that guilt.

    That was when I stood up and I started to run toward Charlie. <em>Don't shoot, don't shoot, I AM THE ONE THAT YOU WANT</em> […]. (11.223)

    At the end of the novel, Little Bee puts her own life at risk to prevent Charlie from possibly being shot by the police.

  • Transformation

    I made myself undesirable. I declined to wash, and I let my skin grow oily. Under my clothes I wound a wide strip of cotton around my chest, to make my breasts small and flat. (1.37)

    Little Bee hides her beauty and femininity to avoid being raped, which seems to be a distinct possibility in the detention center.

    Because this is what I did that place, to remind myself I was alive underneath everything: under my steel toe caps I wore bright red nail varnish.  (1.32)

    Little Bee's toe painting is a means of preserving the identity that is being destroyed by her experiences over the past two years in the detention center. This touch also hints at her yearnings for normal teenage girl experiences.

    And this woman they released from the immigration detention center, this creature that I am, she is a new breed if human. There is nothing natural about me. I was born – no, I was reborn – in captivity. (1.34)

    These lines suggest that Little Bee feels negatively transformed by the detention center process, and by the experience of being locked up for two years, never seeing the outside world (we don't blame her). She feels freakish and unnatural, as if she's the product of some bizarre experiment.

    […] I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. […] Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, <em>I survived.</em> (1.39)

    Little Bee asks us to enter into this pact as she observes the scars covering what she can see of Yevette's body. She wants us to try to find beauty in the human body transformed by scars. Do you agree with her perspective? Did it help you when you were reading the novel?

    It started on the day we met Little Bee, on a lonely beach in Nigeria. The only souvenir I have of that first meeting is an absence where the middle finger of my left hand used to be. (2.15)

    Sarah is physically and psychologically transformed when she lifts that machete and chops off the middle finger of her left hand. What are some of the ways it changes her? Does it make her a better person?

    I realized: this is what you can do for her, Little Bee. You can <em>understand.</em> (7.32)

    Little Bee helps Sarah positively transform her life by being utterly non-judgmental of Sarah and the choices she makes. In this case, Little Bee is being understanding about Sarah's relationship with Lawrence, and Sarah's need to take a mid-morning nap.

    "My principle is that I love Sarah. […] I'll do anything to keep Sarah. <em>Anything</em>, do you understand?" (7.104)

    Lawrence sees Little Bee as a distinct threat to his relationship with Sarah. Why? Do you see Little Bee as a threat to the relationship?

    <em>Words are nothing. The person I am is the person you saw on that beach. He knows where to put the commas, but he wouldn't cut off one finger to save you.</em> (7.170)

    This is what Little Bee remembers Andrew telling her before he hangs himself. Andrew, who has built his life around words, has found himself in a place where words are ineffectual. This transformation is tragic for him.

    "I is going to take off mine Batman costume now." (11.244)

    Charlie's transformation from Batman back to little boy is completed in this moment on the beach in Nigeria.

    […] and I cried with joy when the children all began to play together in the sparkling foam of the waves that broke between worlds at the point. (11.249)

    The imagery in this ending moment – sparkling foam on breaking waves – suggests that a natural transformation is taking place there on the beach. The scene strikes us as one of innocence, in which the children of two very different worlds are coming together as one. Although Little Bee, Charlie, and Sarah are possibly in danger, it's still in sharp contrast to the other beach scenes featured in the novel. Here the beach seems at least partially transformed back to a place of joy.

  • Contrasting Regions: Nigeria and England

    I looked down at his newspaper. The headline on the new page said ASYLUM SEEKERS EATING OUR SWANS. (1.116)

    The headline Little Bee reads is borrowed from real life. (Read all about it in Chris Cleave's interview with Bob Hughes.) In the interview, Hughes argues, among other things, that the British tabloids are responsible for much of the anti-immigrant sentiment in the UK.

    So, I am a refugee, and I get very lonely. Is it my fault if I do not look like an English girl and I do not talk like a Nigerian? (1.35)

    Little Bee is caught between worlds. She is wanted in neither England nor Nigeria, and is a mix of the cultural influences of both places. Due to the dire circumstances under which this hybrid identity is formed, she isn't enjoying the possible benefits it might afford her.

    Yevette: "Dere's freedom as in, <em>yu girls is free to go</em>, and den dere's freedom as in, <em>yu girls is free to go till we catches you</em>. Sorry, but it's that second kind of freedom we got right now, Lil Bee. Truth. Dey call it being a <em>illegal</em> <em>immigrant.</em> (3.31)

    Little Bee finds out from her Jamaican friend Yvette that they've been released from the detention center by mistake. Most likely, her official release from the detention center would have been followed by deportation to Nigeria. As a result of the error, Little Bee is in England, but has no documentation whatsoever.

    Truly, there is no flag for us floating people. We are millions but we are not a nation. We cannot stay together. (3.388)

    Little Bee and people like her are caught between regions – she doesn't belong any more to any one country, and isn't really wanted in any country. Yevette suggests that there are communities of people like herself and Little Bee, but Little Bee's experience as a refugee/undocumented immigrant is limited to her two years in the detention center, and the few days she spends in England before being deported. Her knowledge of the immigrant and refugee experience is really limited.

    "This is fucking bullshit. This is a classic Nigerian scam. Come on, we're going back to the hotel." (4.213)

    When Little Bee and her sister ask Andrew and Sarah to help them on the beach, Andrew thinks they are scamming him. He has the same reaction when Little Bee calls him from the detention center two years later. This points to a stereotype that all Nigerians are scammers because of the prevalence of "Nigerian scams," like ones reported by, and others.

    Little Bee had fled southeast on bleeding feet from what had once been her village and was shortly to become an oil field. (4.141)

    Sarah is telling us the story Little Bee is telling her, the beginning of Little Bee's journey to England.

    I put up a high fence around the affair. In my mind I declared it to be another country and I policed its border ruthlessly. (6.150)

    Sarah uses a geographical metaphor to describe how she felt about her affair with Lawrence. Her marriage to Andrew and her affair with Lawrence are two different countries and she tries to pledge allegiance to them both. She seems to carry over this metaphor to the geography of her life. At the end of the novel, she begins to embrace Nigeria and yet (probably) still keep her ties with England.

    And then I realized it. I said to myself, Little Bee, there is no <em>them.</em> This endless procession of people, walking along the great river, these people are <em>you.</em> (9.57)

    In the movements of people of many races and nationalities that Little Bee sees on the London street, she begins to see the possibility of finding a place to belong in that big city. She realizes that, wherever we are from, we are all made of the same stuff, and we are all interconnected through the very fact of our humanness.

    The way, since Africa, that I had been running between worlds – between Andrew and Lawrence, between Little Bee and my job – running everywhere except to the world where I belonged. Why had I never run to Charlie? (10.49)

    Again, Sarah uses the geography metaphor to describe her relationships in the world. Though for very different reasons, Sarah feels the same type of alienation Little Bee does, this sense of floating between worlds without a solid place to belong. Maybe Charlie becomes the one country that Little Bee and Sarah can belong to and be at home.

    I saw they did not show us the position to adopt in case we were deported to a country where it was likely that we would be killed because of events we had witnessed. (11.101)

    Little Bee comments on the irony of being read safety instructions while she's on a plane being deported back to Nigeria where she might be killed. This begins the setting switch, from England to Nigeria.

    "Lawrence found out what flight they were putting you on," she said. "He's not entirely bad, at the end of the day. We couldn't let you go back alone, Bee. Could we Batman?" (11.112)

    By helping Sarah find Little Bee, Lawrence shows that maybe he really does love Sarah. He's willing to live apart from her in order to keep her with him.

  • Guilt and Blame

    Certain attitudes which have been adopted by this society have left this commentator a little lost. (2.18)

    These are the last words Andrew writes in his column for <em>The Times.</em> They suggest that Andrew blames society, which includes himself, for callousness toward people like Little Bee.

    The hairs on my arm went up, Batman, but I had a household to run. I never understood that he was actually going to do it.</em> (2.21)

    Sarah is trying to figure out how to explain to her son that she didn't recognize that Andrew was suicidal. She's also commenting on the signals her body was sending her that something was very wrong with Andrew – the hairs going up on her arm.

    I decided I wouldn't tell [Charlie] that my husband opened his mouth to say something, but that I was running late and turned away. (2.60)

    Sarah doesn't know whether it would have made a difference if she hadn't turned away from Andrew, but she does feel very guilty for not listening to what he has to say. If she did tell Charlie this part, would he blame her?

    "The guard died because of you," [Andrew] said. (4.259)

    When Sarah refuses to let Little Bee and her sister be taken by the killers on the beach in Nigeria, one of the killers shoots the hotel guard who's trying to get Sarah and Andrew back into the compound. Ironically, Andrew blames Sarah for the death. Of course, he's probably reacting out of shock, rather than a clear assessment of the very bizarre situation he's suddenly found himself in.

    My body betraying me, blushing from my ankles to the crown of my head. (6.158)

    When Andrew meets Sarah with Lawrence at a party, she reveals the affair through her body's reactions. There's something a little "The Tell-Tale Heart" (thank our friend Mr. Poe for that one) about this moment.

    "I'm not ashamed of my adultery, Sarah. I'm ashamed of my fucking cover story." (6.231)

    Lawrence considers himself a "loser," but he definitely doesn't waste his time feeling guilty about spending time at Sarah's instead of working or being with his wife and kids.

    "I would. Please do not imagine I would forgive you, Lawrence. I would make sure I hurt you." (7.124)

    Vengeance isn't absent from Little Bee's vocabulary. She makes it clear to Lawrence that if he messes with her, she'll do what she can to make him pay. We believe her, too. The question is, did Lawrence set up Little Bee to get arrested on purpose? Or, does Little Bee think he did? If so, maybe him finding out what plane she was on (so Sarah and Charlie could go with her to Nigeria) makes up for it.

    "What you did is a crime," he said. "Now I don't have a choice. I have to go to the police." (7.181)

    It's hard to say whether Lawrence really believes Little Bee's interactions with Andrew when he commits suicide are criminal, or whether he just wants to find a way to get rid of her.

    "I was at mine nursery," he said. "That's when the baddies got mine Daddy." (9.102)

    Charlie feels totally responsible for his father's death. He feels that as Batman, he should have been able to save Andrew. At this point, he sort of knows that Andrew is dead, but is holding out hope that he's just been kidnapped by baddies. If Charlie stays Batman, maybe he'll be able to save Andrew yet. Poor kid.

  • Justice and Judgment

    She was not pretty and she was not a good talker either, but there is one more thing that can save you from being <em>sent home early</em>. This girl's thing was, she had her story all written down and made official. There were rubber stamps at the end of her story that said in red ink this is TRUE. (1.45)

    Little Bee describes the lack of official justice available to most asylum seekers she has encountered. The girl with no name, whom she's talking about, is a rarity in that her story has somehow been officially verified.

    Batman looked solemn. <em>Daddy is fighting baddies</em>, he said. (2.56)

    Charlie (Batman) equates his father's inability to help Sarah care for Charlie as fighting baddies. Turns out, Batman isn't too far off.

    "Oh for goodness' sake," I said. You're a child. Why would anyone want to kill you?" […] Little Bee looked back at me and she said, "Because we saw them killing everyone else." (4.211-212)

    In Little Bee's world, any sense of justice seems to have flown out the window when her family was slaughtered and her village destroyed, since it was wanted for an oil field. For the naïve, pre-finger amputation Sarah, such things just don't happen. After the encounter, she'll have a very different take on things.

    "White man been giving me this finger all my life. Today you can give it me to keep. Now cut off your middle finger mister and give it me." (4.294)

    The man speaking is the leader of a group of men trying to find Little Bee and her sister, so they can kill them. They offer Andrew a rough version of justice when they offer to trade the girls' lives for Andrew's finger.

    "Oh Andrew. I think you have to do it."

    "I can't."

    "It's just a finger." (4.307-309)

    At this point, Sarah has already gotten between the armed killer and Little Bee and her sister. Now she's totally focused on saving the girls. It's not that she wants Andrew to do the dirty work, but understands that these men are serious and that to <em>not</em> do what they want will lead to something bad – which it does.

    She saw the white woman put her own left hand down on the hard sand, and she saw her pick up the machete, and she saw her chop of her middle finger with one simple chop […]. (4.321)

    Sarah doesn't waste any time stepping up when Andrew won't. Again, she seems focused on doing whatever it takes to save the two girls.

    "But you will die, little one," he said. "The mister would not pay for you." (4.330)

    The killers mete out their rough justice on Little Bee's sister by raping, torturing, and murdering her while Little Bee is forced to listen. They possess a grim and twisted honor – true to their word, they do, in fact, spare Little Bee's life.

    "Do you really want me to make a choice like that? I cut off my own bloody finger. Do you think I wouldn't cut you off too?" (6.275)

    Sarah's personal sense of justice intensifies as a result of her experiences with Little Bee, as Lawrence learns in this moment.

    "I think I wanted to say thank you to Sarah for saving me, but also I wanted to punish Andrew for letting my sister be killed." (7.161)

    Even though the death of Little Bee's sister can't truly be considered Andrew's fault, we can see how Little Bee would consider him a candidate for her vengeance, especially when we learn the details of her sister's death.

    "Oh you fucking bitch," he said. "I <em>can't</em> go to the police, can I? I can't let Sarah find out. Her head is fucked up enough about all this" (7.188)

    Lawrence isn't at all concerned about justice for Little Bee. He's interested in finding things he can use against her and ways he can judge her.

    It would be a long story to explain why I did not like to leave Charlie like that. (9.85)

    Little Bee senses that Lawrence might not have Charlie's best interest at heart, though we never learn whether her intuition is justified. Her desire for Charlie to have justice overpowers her desire to disappear into the crowds of the London streets.

    "Yes, because if I is not Batman <em>all the time</em> then mine daddy dies." (9.94)

    Charlie has what some might see as an overdeveloped sense of justice, particularly for a four-year-old. He takes the entire burden of his father's death on himself. Do you think this is likely going to be a permanent element of his character?

    "Lawrence found out what flight they were putting you on," she said. "He's not entirely bad, at the end of the day. We couldn't let you go back alone, Bee. Could we Batman?" (11.112)

    Ultimately, Lawrence, whatever his motivation, contributes to the possibility of justice for Little Bee. But since it means being separated from Sarah, it seems like a decent-sized sacrifice. Still, we don't get to know Lawrence well enough to get a good sense of what exactly motivates him.

  • Language and Communication

    No, it is not the Queen's crown and scepter that rule in your land. It is her grammar and her voice. That is why it's desirable to speak the way she does. (1.6)

    Little Bee is very concerned with the English language. While in the detention center, her idea that learning Standard British English will give her entrance into British society gives her a kind of brittle hope. If she can talk the talk, maybe she'll be able to make it.

    Learning the Queen's English is like scrubbing off the red varnish from your toenails the morning after the dance. (1.7)

    As in many former British colonies, English is the official language of Little Bee's home country, Nigeria. Nigerian English is a hybrid of Standard English and African languages. As Little Bee discusses, it's much more ornamental and experimental than Standard English. So, she actually feels as though she's betraying her own language when she learns Standard English. But, most contemporary linguists will tell you that it's not necessary to give up one language in order to learn another.

    I learned your language in an immigration detention center, in Essex, in the southeastern part of the United Kingdom. Two years, they locked me in here. Time was all I had. (1.7)

    Little's Bee's study of Standard English was a bittersweet antidote to the boredom and monotony of life in prison. If she hadn't felt like she was having to trade one English for another, learning the new English might not have been so uncomfortable for her.

    Imagine a young woman cut from a smiling Save the Children magazine advertisement, who dresses herself in threadbare pink clothes from the recycling bin in your local supermarket and speaks English like the leader column of the <em>Times</em>, if you please. (1.34)

    Little Bee feels that her African appearance, mixed with her "proper" English, makes her a bizarre Frankenstein-esque hybrid.

    "I think my ideal man would speak many languages. He would speak Ibo and Yoruba and English and French and all of the others. He could speak with any person, even the soldiers, and if there was violence in their hearts, he could change it. (3.76)

    Little Bee has great faith in the power of communication to cure the world's ills. She's something of a foil for Andrew in that regard. For Little Bee, language and communication mean hope for peace in the world. Conversely, Andrew, a man who lives off words, completely loses faith in their power to make a difference.

    "So I stood outside the door and shouted, <em>Do not be afraid of me! I am only a human being!</em>" (7.167)

    Little Bee finds Andrew in a place where language can't reach him anymore. Nothing Little Bee can say will produce anything but horror.

    "I said I thought maybe I would carry on Andrew's work. You know, read through his notes. Find out a bit more about detention centers. Maybe even, I don't know, write the book myself." (9.163)

    This reminds us a lot of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 bestseller <em>The Help</em>, which shows how telling and publishing forbidden stories can help create more just societies. Sarah too becomes a foil for Andrew and his loss of faith in the power of words.

    I smiled at Sarah. "Let us go and collect stories." (11.150)

    Sarah and Little Bee's work interviewing victims of oil company atrocities in Nigeria is really dangerous. But, at this point, both women are determined to help as many other people as possible. Collecting stories is also part of continuing the work Andrew started before he died. Continuing his work is a kind of living changing memorial to him and the good intentions he had in his heart.

  • Technology and Modernization

    A pound is free to travel to safety, and we are free to watch it go. This is the human triumph. This is called, <em>globalization.</em> A girl like me gets stopped at immigration, but a pound can leap turnstiles […] and jump straight into a waiting airport taxi. (1.4)

    Little Bee is commenting on the irony of globalization – money can travel the globe freely, but people cannot, especially if they don't have money.

    I am a born again citizen of the developing world and I will prove to you that the color of my life is <em>gray.</em> (1.36)

    Little Bee is describing her brutal transition from a rural society to an industrial one. The bureaucratic processing she experiences in the detention center, coupled with her lack of a place to belong, leads to this sensation of grayness.

    We looked as if we'd been cobbled together in Photoshop, the three of us, walking to my husband's funeral. One white middle class mother, one skinny black refugee girl, and one small Dark Knight from Gotham City. (2.8)

    Sarah is very much a product of the digital age – her vision of the world is impacted by her interactions with contemporary technology.

    I picked up the phone. The new text was indeed from Andrew. SO SORRY, it said. (2.163)

    Sarah gets this text after the police tell her that Andrew has hanged himself. Some glitch delays Andrew's final transmission, so it arrives a good long time after he sends it.

    "Me did a favor for one of dem immigration men, all right. He make a few changes on de computer, just put a tick in the right box, you know, an – POW! – up come de names for release. (3.244)

    As Yevette reveals to Little Bee, their release from detention is a result of technological manipulation.

    "Will you delete him for me, Bee? I can't do it." (5.116)

    After Sarah accidentally calls Andrew (now dead) to get his advice on a problem, she asks Little Bee to delete him from her contacts, reminding us of the novel's UK title, <em>The Other Hand. </em>

    I'd never let him know, either, that I scrolled through his BlackBerry, read his e-mails, read his mind while he slept. (6.148)

    Technology becomes a road for Sarah to experience a kind of secretive intimacy with Lawrence, raising issues of technology and privacy.

    It was less like a discussion and more like a terrible mix-up at the printers. It didn't stop till I threw the flowerpot at him. (6.165)

    Sarah even uses technological terms to describe her fight with Andrew after her affair is revealed.

    You live in a world of machines and you dream of things with beating hearts. We dream of machines, because we see where beating hearts have left us. (9.13)

    Little Bee suggests that people living in industrialized, mechanized societies are alienated from natural life, while people living with limited machinery and technology are subject to abuses of power.

  • Hope

    The African girl they locked up in the immigration detention center, poor child, she never really escaped. (1.34)

    It's hard to understand exactly what Little Bee means by this. It points to the fractured state of her identity at this time, and her sense of imprisonment, even though she's no longer literally detained. It demonstrates the desperation she feels over what has happened to her.

    In a few breaths' time I will speak sad words to you. But you must hear them the same way we have agreed to see scars now. Sad words are just another beauty. A sad story means, this story-teller is <em>alive.</em> (1.40)

    Little Bee has the difficult task of acknowledging the horrors of the world while not losing hope in the power and possibility of being alive. Seeing that sari girl and Yevette have lived to wear their very visible scars gives her hope that she might live too. Storytelling is also related to hope in this novel. One of Little Bee's purposes for telling her story is to educate people in industrialized, English-speaking countries about people like herself in hopes this will make a difference.

    "Dere's freedom as in, <em>yu girls is free to go</em>, and den dere's freedom as in, <em>yu girls is free to go till we catches you</em>. Sorry, but it's that second kind of freedom we got right now, Lil Bee. Truth. Dey call it being a <em>illegal</em> <em>immigrant.</em> (3.31)

    For Yevette, freedom is the biggest form of hope. She's willing to brave the streets of London with no money and papers, and willing to have sex with a detention center employee in order to get it. What do you think you would do for freedom?

    I said, <em>Your daughter is very helpful. Look how she chases those hens.</em> (3.368)

    When the girl with no name hallucinates her dead daughter, Little Bee and Yevette feel it natural to indulge her. They are trying to help her hold on to some bit of home. The girl with no name kills herself not long after the incident, so hope didn't win out for her after all. But, we might argue that at least she experienced compassion and kindness from Little Bee and Yevette before she died. Or, maybe you feel their actions weren't really all that kind and helpful?

    At first I thought, <em>Of course I must save him, whatever it costs me, because he is a human being.</em> And then I thought, <em>Of course I must save myself, because I am a human being too.</em> (7.172)

    Although Little Bee probably couldn't have acted swiftly enough to save Andrew from his own suicide, she is faced with a grim reality in which one's own safety seems to be at the cost of the lives of others. This is an example of Little Bee walking a fine line between hope and desperation.

    "And Bee, you take my phone and you go up on the embankment and you call the police. Then you wait for them, so you can show them where we are when they arrive." (10.52)

    We are never explicitly told whether Lawrence's instructions are calculated to get Little Bee arrested, or if he simply forgets that in her reality, the police are the <em>last</em> people she needs to be calling. Our hopes for Little Bee's safety really plummet at this point in the novel. 

    Sarah looked straight back at him. She said, "The child believes he has special powers."
    The commander grinned. "Well, I am just a man," he said. "I will not arrest any of you at this time." (11.127, 11.128)

    Whew. We find this moment hopeful. Sarah seems to know just how to relate to the Nigerian authorities. She treats them with respect and tells them the truth. This reasonableness on both sides presents an argument that when honest, respectful communication is present, things can be resolved peacefully.

    "That is it. Udo means, peace. Do you know what peace is, Charlie?"

    Charlie shook his head.

    "Peace is the time when people can tell each other their real names." (11.240-11.242)

    Little Bee is referring specifically to the fact that she and Charlie can call each other "Udo" and "Charlie" instead of "Little Bee" and "Batman." At least between the two of them there's peace. The line also refers to the motif of disguise found throughout the novel in both Sarah and Little Bee's chapters. What do you make of Little Bee's definition of peace? Do you think it's a good one?

    But me, I watched all of those children smiling and dancing and splashing one another in salt water and bright sunlight, and I laughed and laughed and laughed until the sound of the sea was drowned. (11.249)

    The imagery here is very hopeful – salt water, bright sun, laughter, dancing. But the sound of the sea is also a source of desperation for Little Bee. It's what she heard along with the sounds of her sister being raped, tortured, and murdered. The fact that laughter is what Little Bee uses to drown out that sound seems pretty hopeful to us.