Book Reports / Bee Season Analysis

Bee Season Analysis

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Autor:  anton  23 November 2010
Tags:  Season,  Analysis
Words: 2819   |   Pages: 12
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Form/Structure, Plot

Bee Season is organized in chronological order, which helps the reader to understand the complex series of events that Eliza Naumann and her family encounter. The form of the novel does not include any chapter breaks, only breaks that transition the point of view or a major elapse of time. This is interesting because instead of separating events like chapter breaks normally do, the book is separated by characters, showing more emphasis towards character development. There are multiple plots in the novel, the main one being Eliza’s journey through the spelling bees and eventually through Jewish mysticism and her growth as an individual. However, there area also three lesser plots, which are Aaron’s spiritual investigation for a religion that spiritually satisfies him more than Judaism; Miriam’s struggle with kleptomania and her relationship with Saul; Saul’s attempts at understanding and relating to his entire family instead of only one person.

Bee Season begins with a description of Eliza as a mediocre student “from whom great things should not be expected” (1) and then proceeds to her class spelling bee, which she easily wins. She is then able to go to the school bee, which she also easily wins, and proceeds on to the district bee. When Saul, her father, realizes that Eliza has such a strong unique talent, he begins to study with her. These study sessions that Saul now devotes to Eliza used to belong to Aaron, Eliza’s brother. Aaron begins to become spiritually dissatisfied with Judaism and begins to explore the Eastern religions until he meets a man named Chali and participates in Hinduism. As Saul’s and Eliza’s study sessions continue Eliza wins at the district bee and wins a spot in the state bee, which she also wins. Miriam and Saul attempt to patch their marriage back together even though they rarely spend any time together. Miriam’s kleptomania and habit of sneaking into empty houses has finally gone too far and she vows to stop, which she does successfully. As the family begins to fall apart Saul begins to show Eliza more and more about Jewish mysticism, and Eliza begins to study the letters and the patterns of words instead of just the spellings themselves. At the national bee Eliza survives the first day, but is “dinged out” on the word “duvetyn”, eliminating her from that year’s competition. In the intervening time between the national bee and the beginning of the next “Bee season” Eliza and Saul continue to study the words and the Jewish mysticism, and Aaron decides to tell his father about his change of faith, causing a massive argument, resulting in Aaron’s leaving the house for the temple. At the next school spelling bee Eliza purposely misspells “origami”, resulting in her loss of the competition and forfeiture of another chance for the National Spelling Bee.

Point Of View/Perspective

Most of the story is told to the reader from the view of Eliza Naumann, but quite a bit, especially later in the story, is from the points of view and Eliza’s father, Saul; her mother, Miriam; and Eliza’s brother, Aaron. All of these view points are related in third-person. Out of the four, Eliza’s is the most interpretive and descriptive point of view, while Miriam’s is much more philosophical. This is important because it reinforces to the reader that Miriam’s main concerns are about her philosophical approach to life, and that Eliza is mostly concerned with still learning more about the world around her and finding basic meaning in it. All four of the viewpoints are highly reliable and direct for characterization and situational description. The perspective shifts are quite numerous and seem to locate the most important character at that time, typically being Eliza, the natural protagonist. The narrator is omniscient in the characters’ thoughts and informs the reader of most major aspects of the story, while dialogue is informative enough for the rest of the necessary information. With these frequent perspective changes the reader is able to understand each of the individual main characters more fully than if there was only one perspective and all information was gathered through dialogue. Instead the reader can discover a character’s thoughts and feelings in a given situation from a different vantage point than another character, such as when Saul would watch Eliza’s bees and then the perspective would switch to Eliza for the on-stage viewpoint, bringing the reader right into the middle of the action and the stress and fear.


In Bee Season each of the main characters are each individually highly developed and thoroughly explained. All that the reader learns of and from the characters is included in the story; nothing can be learned from their lack of information, mostly because all aspects of the person are investigated. For the most part the characters’ personalities are revealed through the speaker’s description of their thoughts and current feelings on the present situation. Other aspects of their personalities can be learned through their actions, such as Miriam’s insecurity which is expressed through her kleptomania and breaking into houses. Little information can be derived about the main characters by what they wear, but for the supporting this is not necessarily true. An example of this is Chali and his fellow temple-mates. They’re sole purpose in the novel is to help Aaron along on his spiritual journey and their clothing (the traditional robes of their religion) shows that they are totally devoted to their religion. Eliza, as the protagonist, is the most in-depth of the characters, and most of what is learned about her through the course of the novel is from what the narrator speaks of her thoughts and her feelings. Eliza is the most complex of all the characters and also the most interesting. Aaron, Miriam, and Saul are all of about the same complexity and are only slightly simpler than Eliza in their characterization. The lesser characters, such as Chali or Ms. Bergermeyer, are much simpler and very little of their personality is explored. In the case of Chali this portion of him is his religious philosophy, and in Ms. Bergermeyer it is merely her opinion of Eliza as either a mediocre student, or an exceptional one.

Eliza is a nine-year-old Jewish girl who lives in a slightly dysfunctional family and is a mediocre student at school at the beginning of the story. This all changes as she begins to achieve great feats in the spelling bees, and she ages beyond her years as she discovers the “world of letters” and begins to understand how messed up her family is.

Since being designated three years ago as a student from whom great things should not be expected, she has grown inured to the sun-bleached posters of puppies and kittens hanging from ropes, and trying to climb ladders, and wearing hats that are too big for them above captions like “Hang in there,” “If at first you don’t succeed…” and “There’s always time to grow.” (1)

This passage describes Eliza’s character at the beginning of the novel, and it reveals character because it shows what Eliza thought of herself at the start of everything. She had thought that she was a mediocre student and that she would never be able to stand out above others in her grade. The teachers had given up hope for her uniqueness and had blended her together with the rest of the mediocre students. She was able to prove them wrong over the course of the year however, and the next year her character and personality had totally and completely changed.

Critical Review

Mixing mysticism, mental illness, and the bizarre subculture of spelling bees, Bee Season takes a poignant look at what happens to a family when things don't go as planned.

Nine-year-old Eliza Naumann has never considered herself remarkable, and her teachers and family have done little to convince her otherwise. All notions are challenged when Eliza wins her fourth grade class spelling bee. This seemingly small victory turns out to be just the beginning; within weeks she earns a seat on the high-pressure stage of the national spelling competition. As the accidentally-gifted child comes to terms with her new sense of self, the patchwork of her family begins to unravel.

While they may pass for "normal," the Naumann family proves that looks are deceiving. Patriarch Saul is a bohemian-turned-theologian, who wants nothing more than for his children to embrace Jewish mysticism as he has. Eliza's mother Miriam seems to have it all--a career in law, a solid family, and a shrewd intellect--but underneath this disguise of togetherness lies an obsessive-compulsive personality and need for aesthetic perfection that manifests itself in most unusual ways. Eliza's older brother is a shy, awkward teenager, though his bookish intelligence and eagerness to please his father have always ingratiated him on the home front. When Eliza falls into the spotlight, Aaron finds himself ousted from the role of golden child. He embarks on a quest for belonging, and in the process becomes entranced by an alternative religion.

Myla Goldberg has created a world of lovable misfits, a world whose inhabitants search for meaning outside the realm of suburban drudgery and the struggles of everyday living. These quests lead Goldberg's characters down highly-unexpected paths, taking her readers on a ride that is at times funny, at times frightening, and always magical and inventive. When she is not writing, Goldberg pursues several other passions; among them, she is an accomplished musician--she plays accordion, banjo, flute, and more--and is a foreign and independent film aficionado. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, Jason Little.

--Laura Buchwald, Bold Type: This review of Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season is from an online monthly book review called “Bold Type”, and was written by Laura Buchwald. I agree will Buchwald on most points of her review, especially that Goldberg had “created a world of lovable misfits”. The reader cannot help but associate with at least some small part of each of the characters and then become supportive of them throughout their journeys in the novel. Here analysis of how the novel mixes Saul’s obsession with Jewish mysticism, Miriam’s kleptomania, and Eliza’s spelling bees is quite accurate because that is what the main theme of the story is: how people can recover and deal with absurd circumstances and strange occurrences. Another aspect of Buchwald’s review that I agree with is the fact that all Saul wants is for his children to embrace the same things that he loves and enjoys, even though this rarely happens with things such as mysticism. I further agree with Buchwald on the fact of the characters’ journeys leading “down highly-unexpected paths”, and that the novel was “a ride that is at times funny, at times frightening, and always magical and inventive” for the reader. The book was quite fun to read and quite an interesting story, if at many times quite strange also.

I do, however, disagree with Buchwald on her opinion that Goldberg had created a world in which the family “search[es] for meaning outside the realm of suburban drudgery and the struggles of everyday living”. The family searches for answers to their person questions in normal ways. For example, Aaron attempts to find spiritual satisfaction through religious exploration and he eventually finds what he is looking for, in the exact same manner as many other people who are in the same situation. This does not seem to be a search for meaning outside of “suburban drudgery”, but a simple search for the correct religion and set of beliefs for Aaron. Another example would be that Saul uses Jewish mysticism to attempt to find meaning, and as a religious figure at the synagogue this is not out of the ordinary. Using religion to understand life and find meaning is extremely common and not outside of “everyday living”.

Overall, I mostly agree with Buchwald’s review and support most of her claims about the novel. The critical review is simple and understandable and it is nice to hear someone else’s opinion of the story.


The diction of Bee Season is mostly neutral to informal throughout the novel, with the occasion section of formal diction. Goldberg uses little slang in Bee Season, but instead tends to use simpler, more universal word choice. There are no noticeable colloquialisms in the novel. The only jargon used by Goldberg is used for the purposes of religious activities or descriptions, such as Hare Krishna or Prabhupada. Most of the language used is quite simple and concise, and is used to offer deep description of the characters and others that are around them, such as Eliza’s fellow spelling bee contestants. The diction of the book also alternates along with the point of view. Eliza, Saul, Miriam, and Aaron each have different types of diction that corresponds to their specific characteristics and personality, as well as education.

The diction in Eliza’s passages is typically even more direct and much simpler than the others. It is extremely elaborate when describing her surrounding and other peoples’ behavior. A prime example of this is at one of the spelling bees when Eliza would describe the nervous habits of her fellow competitors, such as nail-biting or hand-wringing.

Saul’s diction is more cunning and sophisticated than the rest of the family’s, while Miriam’s is complex and doubting. Aaron’s is very philosophical and many religious terms are included in his passages.


The title for this story, Bee Season, is literally what the story is about, the season of spelling bees during the school year when the smaller bees begin at the elementary school level and then progress until the final National Spelling Bee. The title has nothing to do with the insects “bees” as may be at first thought, but instead is totally focused upon the spelling competitions. The sole focus of Saul and Eliza for most of the novel is on spelling bees and so the title fits perfectly into their mission for perfection. The title shows where most of the focus of the story will be, giving the reader an early insight into the purpose of the novel. The title does not seem to be an allusion to any other work. The use of “Bee” may also be a reference to the insects, which are always scurrying around, seemingly mindless, much like the Naumann family. This reference to their randomness and disorganization could be to show the reader that although on the outside the family may seem unorganized and scattered they are in fact able to work together, even if their ties are stretched, and eventually prosper.

Memorable Quote

Eliza doesn’t close her eyes. She doesn’t empty her mind. She doesn’t wait for the letters to come because she’s already picked the letters she wants. She faces her father as she pronounces them one by one.

“Origami,” Eliza says. “O-R-I-G-A-M-Y. Origami.”

Everyone in the room breathes in at once. For a moment it feels as if there isn’t enough air. Saul is covering his mouth as if his hand could someone block the moment, removing from the room a word which was never his to claim. (273-4)

This quotation from the end of the novel is my most memorable of the story because of its description of Eliza’s choice. She no longer wished to compete in the spelling contests and purposefully lost. The fact that she looks at her father as she misspells the word shows that she is certain of her decision and is ready and aware of the consequences. Since Eliza didn’t close her or prepare for the spelling in her normal it can make the reader certain that she had been planning this for some time, making the act even that much more significant. Her small act of rebellion against her father and his plans for her is final and drastic. The syntax of the paragraph before she spells the word is short and concise except for one sentence. This places even more influence on the fact that she chose the letters that she “wants” to say, reinforcing the fact to the reader that she has planned this act and is ready for what will come of it. After Eliza has misspelled the word the reaction from the room is fast and spontaneous, just as the description of the reaction is instant and to the point. The reader may think that Eliza is scared because of the description of the seeming lack of air, causing her to have trouble breathing, possibly from nervousness, or even shock at her own daring. That Saul covered up his mouth shows the reader his shock at Eliza’s brashness, and his attempt to “block” the spelling shows his attempt at control over his daughter, but Eliza’s stiff rebellion against him is just, for her talent was never his to control or cage. This passage shows the final stage of Eliza’s development in the novel: she has become an independent girl, capable of her own choices and prepared for her own journey and the consequences that will come with it.

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