Study Guide

Little Bee (The Other Hand) Hope

By Chris Cleave

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.

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