Study Guide

Little Bee (The Other Hand) Transformation

By Chris Cleave

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.

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