Bee Season: A Novel Themes

Myla Goldberg
This Study Guide consists of approximately 34 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Bee Season.
This section contains 1,125 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)

Transcendence

In terms of Bee Season, transcendence relates to a character's experience of a type of spiritual ecstasy. As it relates to Eliza Naumann, transcendence takes two forms. The first kind of transcendence Eliza experiences is related to her spelling ability. During her spelling bee experiences, the letters occur to Eliza in a way that is beyond the norm. That is to say, the letters envelop Eliza's consciousness, dancing in her mind and moving through her body; spelling for Eliza is organic rather than purely intellectual. Eliza's second experience with transcendence has to do with her study of Saul's translations of the work of Abraham Abulafia and his principles of "shefa." By closely following Abulafia's principles, Eliza is transported to a place outside herself, a place of complete and total spiritual alignment with herself and the universe around her.

Saul Naumann's first experience with transcendence occur when he is a young man studying at Baruch Yeshiva. There, Saul experiments with the drug LSD, a hallucinogen thought to expand the human mind and transport the user to existential states of pure clarity and unimpeded creativity. When Saul embraces and begins to study Jewish mysticism, however, his LSD trips become less and less significant. As Saul discovers transcendent states through his accession of the principles of Kaballah, his transcendence takes the form of communing with God.

Aaron Naumann, though born and raised in a Jewish home, reaches transcendence for the first time while spending the weekend with his friend Chali at the Hare Krishna temple. Aaron releases himself to the experience of shouting the name of God with Chali and the other worshipers and becomes aware of himself as a spiritual being, interconnected with the other souls surrounding him. This experience of transcendence closely mirrors the day of Aaron's bar mitzvah at Beth Amicha when, standing on the dais before the congregation, he feels a oneness with everyone else in the synagogue.

Miriam Naumann's experience of transcendence differs from that of her family in that Miriam's transcendence is dependent on her perceived perfection of things external to herself. Her concept of "Perfectimundo" only happens at those times when Miriam sees or feels something related to an object or a particular circumstance. The pebble in the perfect center of a hopscotch square, a perfectly round, unspoiled pink rubber ball, the inside of a kaleidoscope—all signify "Perfectimundo" to Miriam.

Disappointment

As a theme, disappointment is generational in Bee Season. The first disappointment to befall the Naumann family is Saul's father's disappointment with his own family. Yehuda Naumann becomes Henry (Hank) Newman as a result of Hank's strained relationship with his own father, which leads to Hank's subsequent rejection of the Jewish faith.

Sal Newman becomes Saul Naumann after Saul realizes the importance and profundity of being Jewish. However, Saul experiences the same type of disappointment in his own father when he becomes aware of his father's past. Just as Yehuda (Hank) turned his back on his father, Saul turns his back on Hank. Saul's disappointment stems from the realization that for most of his early life, Saul's father kept Judaism a secret from Saul. Later in life, Saul experiences disappointment once again when he learns of Miriam's kleptomania and the depth of her mental illness. Miriam, like Hank, keeps things to herself rather than share them with Saul. Later, Saul becomes disappointed with Aaron's decision to join the Hare Krishna temple.

Miriam (Grossman) Naumann's sense of disappointment begins with the death of both of her parents when she is a junior in college. As an orphan, Miriam is faced with the challenge of being her own family. She becomes self-contained, driven and externally focused. When she meets Saul, it is clear that Miriam does not experience love, but a kind of rational attachment to someone Miriam feels will provide her with a solid home and security while she continues to search for "Perfectimundo." Later, Miriam's disappointment carries over into her marriage and raising her children. Miriam resents having to breastfeed Aaron, considering him to be more Saul's child than her own. Miriam's family-related disappointment resurfaces when she witnesses Eliza's blasé reaction to the kaleidoscope Miriam was given as a young girl. Finally, Miriam's disappointment turns to a sense of betrayal when she notices that her pink rubber ball has been scuffed and she tells Saul to leave Holliswood.

Aaron Naumann feels disappointed in God after his prayers go unanswered. When Aaron first "sees" God in the blinking red light of an airplane, he, too, begins a quest for closeness with the Creator. He becomes disillusioned with Judaism when the feeling of oneness eludes him after his bar mitzvah experience. Aaron becomes disappointed when Saul seemingly throws him over to help Eliza practice for the spelling bees.

Eliza's disappointment is somewhat more subtle than that of the other members of her immediate family. Eliza is not so much disappointed as disconnected—from her father and mother, certainly, but most especially from Aaron once he begins his friendship with Chali. Eliza sees herself as the mediocre one in the Naumann family until her spelling bee success.

Revelation

In the narrative, revelation refers to the principle of things being revealed or uncovered in the characters' lives and individual psyches. For instance, when Eliza sees Aaron being beaten up by a group of other boys, she realizes that Aaron is not as powerful and strong as she had once believed. This revelation affects Eliza's opinion of her brother although she does not share this with Aaron. However, Eliza's feeling of disillusionment with her brother is finally revealed toward the end of the narrative when Eliza lashes out at Aaron after he returns from his weekend at ISKCON.

For Saul, revelation takes more than one form. The first, of course, is Saul's introduction to Judaism. When he and Lisa (his mother) first light Shabbat candles in his father's absence, Saul feels as though he has come home. Next, the revelation that his daughter Eliza is a gifted speller buoys Saul's confidence in his daughter and raises his level of esteem for a child he thought would only ever be average at best. Saul's most damaging revelation occurs toward the close of the narrative when he visits Miriam's kaleidoscope storage space. The discovery of his wife's lifelong pathological "collecting" is too much for his senses to bear when Saul finally understands who Miriam really is.

Finally, revelation registers significantly with Eliza Naumann during her private study of Abulafia's teachings. While the physical experience itself is outlined in the narrative, the reader never learns the true importance of the internal shift Eliza undergoes. However, Eliza's final (perhaps intentional) misspelling of ORIGAMI does offer a clue as to the depth of her experience.

This section contains 1,125 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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