This section contains 1,486 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
Pages 1 - 63 Summary
When Bee Season by Myla Goldberg begins, Eliza Naumann is in the fifth grade. Eliza lives with her older brother, Aaron, and her parents Miriam and Saul. Miriam works as a lawyer and Saul is the cantor at Temple Beth Amicha Synagogue. When Eliza wins the school spelling bee, a new world opens before her very eyes. Not everything Eliza Naumann learns is pleasant or easy, however, and her participation in the national bee sets in motion a course of events which will change the Naumann family forever.
Eliza Naumann is a mediocre student who wins her class spelling bee and Eliza is just as surprised as anyone. Eliza is in Ms. Bergermeyer's combined fourth-and-fifth grade class at McKinley Elementary. The students in the class are of average intelligence. Eliza's brother, Aaron, is the family's shining star, having been selected for TAG (Talented and Gifted) classes when he was Eliza's age. Her status as patently average has always been somewhat disappointing to Eliza's parents.
After winning the school spelling bee and qualifying for the district bee, Eliza slips the official notice under her father's study door. Saul Naumann is very protective of his study; considering it a sanctuary of meditation and peace. The family knows that when Saul's study door is closed, they are not to interrupt him.
As a young man, Saul's father Henry (a mechanic by trade) renounces his Jewish faith and changes the family name to Newman. When Saul is thirteen, his mother Lisa shows Saul a box containing family mementos relating to his family's Jewish Orthodoxy. She also takes Saul to synagogue and begins re-introducing Saul to Judaism. Two years later, Lisa Naumann dies of cancer. Saul experiments with LSD during his college years.
After three days, Saul has still not mentioned Eliza's spelling bee victory.
Eliza's mother Miriam is a powerhouse, a lawyer and a compulsive housekeeper. Miriam is the only child of Ruth and Melvin Grossman, a wealthy Jewish couple. Miriam meets Saul when she is still in law school and Saul is a research assistant to a professor of Judaism. Miriam sees Saul as someone who will make a solid husband and allow Miriam the autonomy she desires. Saul views Miriam as someone who would not object to his pursuit of knowledge.
Eliza asks Aaron to drive her to the district spelling bee. Aaron is seventeen. Eliza notices that her brother has chest hair and realizes that their relationship is about to change. Eliza has always seen Aaron as a protector and a guide. Eliza and Aaron finally go to Saul's study to tell their father about Eliza winning the school bee.
When Eliza is five and Aaron is eleven, she sees her brother being beaten up by a group of boys. She watches, unable to do anything to help him (p. 30). Aaron refuses to tell Saul or the principal who beat him up. Secretly, Saul feels a sense of pride that his son is not a tattletale.
Aaron Naumann first sees God when he is eight years old. He is on an airplane with Saul. Actually, what Aaron sees is just the blinking light on the wing of the airplane. They are returning from Henry Newman's funeral. Aaron begins to pray silently to God to reveal Himself.
Eliza Naumann wins the preliminary district spelling bee. Aaron remembers the day of his bar mitzvah. During the bar mitzvah prayers, something mystical occurs for Aaron Naumann. Suddenly, he senses the totality of the congregation. Aaron feels God once more.
Upon their return home, Saul is excited to hear that his daughter, whom he calls "Elly-belly", has won the district spelling bee. Eliza and her family plan to travel to Philadelphia in four weeks where Eliza will compete in the district finals. Eliza begins studying. Spelling practice is organic as well as intellectual. Eliza senses the words, visualizes them: "The letters are magnets, her brain a refrigerator door" (p. 44).
Eliza develops a sense of self-confidence and begins sleeping with her word list under her pillow.
On the day of his marriage to Miriam Grossman, Saul experiences a religious and spiritual reawakening. Saul views the smashing of the cup during the marriage ceremony as emblematic of the destruction of his past. Over the years, however, he and Miriam drift apart. Theirs is a companionable, if sexless, marriage.
Saul offers to help Eliza practice for the district finals but she refuses, feeling somewhat satisfied at the prospect of doing it all on her own.
At temple, Saul Naumann announces before the congregation that his daughter will soon participate in the finals of the district spelling bee. The members of the congregation all wish Eliza luck. Even Mrs. Schwartz gives her a piece of cake with a flower on it. Flowers are highly coveted and Eliza considers this a special treat.
Aaron tries not to be jealous about Saul announcing Eliza's special achievement.
The day of the district finals, Eliza is especially excited that her whole family is in the audience, even though the tights Miriam chose for Eliza to wear itch terribly. Eliza spells her first word, ELEMENT, correctly.
Aaron is not exactly thrilled to be at the spelling bee. He does, however, appreciate being there with his family. After all, "it [reinforces] the idea that the four of them are bound by more than a shared roof" (p. 56).
When Eliza is first brought home from the hospital, Aaron is in awe. Saul asks Aaron to help him "look out" for Eliza (p. 57).
As the bee continues, Eliza finds that she is unable to get the theme from Star Wars out of her head. The girl sitting next to Eliza is eliminated. Watching Eliza on-stage, Miriam Naumann realizes that she has never felt connected to her daughter. Miriam is disappointed that Eliza is not more intelligent, more like Miriam herself. Eliza looks just like Miriam when Miriam was her daughter's age.
By round 12, two more contestants have been eliminated and Eliza is left to compete against just one other speller—a young Pakistani boy who "carries himself like a middle-aged businessman" and grinds his teeth (p. 60). Eliza wins the district final spelling bee after the Pakistani boy misspells GLISSANDO.
Pages 1 - 63 Analysis
In this section, the four main protagonists are introduced. The picture that Myla Goldman paints of the Naumann family is neither positive nor negative initially. However, with the introduction of Saul's family history, it is revealed that he is a man on a quest to find and become closer to God. Similarly, the stage is also set for Aaron Naumann's own quest to know and be known by God.
This section also serves to establish the characters' as they are internally. The theme of disappointment is woven throughout, beginning with Saul's failed relationship with his own father, Hank. In addition, the reader learns that Eliza is the only average member of her family. Both her parents and Aaron are intellectually self-assured, and it is Aaron who shines. It is Eliza's spelling bee wins, though, that usher in her own feeling of belonging. In other words, Eliza manages to distinguish herself within the family as talented and gifted in her own way. Eliza's transition produces some measure of resentment in Aaron, whose position in the family hierarchy shifts when Saul decides to help Eliza with her spelling practice rather than playing guitar with his son.
The narrative shifts back and forth between past and present with ease and fluidity, making it appear as though there is little difference between what is and what was for the Naumanns. This technique also establishes the continual effect that one's past has on one's current situation.
Eliza's witnessing of Aaron being bullied and its emotional after-effects provides a foreshadowing of the ways in which the siblings' relationship is about to change. On page 24, it states: "[Eliza's] gilded image of [Aaron] will last four more months before the real world strips it from him." Seeing Aaron, her one-time protector and hero, unable to defend himself causes Eliza to question Aaron's role in her life and also leaves the character with the question of who will step into Aaron's place. Conversely, however, Aaron's subsequent refusal to identify his tormentors leaves Saul feeling proud of his son for a reason other than Aaron's intellectual abilities. Unfortunately, the feeling eventually fades when Aaron claims to espouse the views of ISKCON.
Saul's study and his proprietary attitude toward the room itself and its contents, represents the way in which Saul Naumann maintains distance from Miriam, Eliza and Aaron. The study also represents the existence of secrets in the narrative proper. Each member of the Naumann family has a secret which remains hidden from the others. Once the sanctity of the study is breached, in the form of Saul and Eliza's study sessions, the Naumann family secrets come to the surface one by one.
This section contains 1,486 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)