Study Guide

Little Bee (The Other Hand) Mortality

By Chris Cleave

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.

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