He Secret Life of Bees By Sue Monk Kidd Summary and Analysis Chapter 1

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Chapter 10


August paces while May is gone. After twenty-five minutes, she says they should go after May. Grabbing a flashlight, August sets out, and June, Rosaleen, and Lily follow, calling May's name. They don't find May, and August sends June to the house to call the police, and then says a prayer to Our Lady to protect May. Lily begins reciting the rosary out loud as they search. June returns with another flashlight and announces that the police are coming.

August and Lily find May dead in the river, with a huge stone on top of her to weigh her down. They pull her out and lay her on the riverbank. August and June are heartbroken, but after April's death and May's despair, they have expected it. Both sisters are devastated; Lily reaches for a tree limb and holds on tight.

The police question Lily while August and June accompany May's body to the funeral home. Lily tells the usual lies about her background. The police question her closely about why she is staying in a black person's home rather than going back home among white folk. Rosaleen lies and says she brought Lily here because she's the wife of August's first cousin. The policeman warns Lily to call her aunt right away, because she shouldn't lower herself to live with black people. After he leaves, Lily and Rosaleen sleep in May's room. Lily has a dream about Zach and wakes up with a heavy heart. She remembers the happiest parts of May, as well as the anguish that caused her death.

May's death postpones Lily's talk with August about Deborah. After an autopsy, the body is released and the police call May's death a suicide. The funeral home brings May's body to the house for a vigil. This is new to Lily but August says it helps the death sink in with loved ones. Looking at May and knowing May knew her mother, Lily feels an urge to confess her secrets to August. But she realizes August is too sad right now. Lily says a prayer to Mary, hoping May will be happier in heaven. She asks Mary to let Deborah know she is away from T. Ray; she also asks for a sign from her mother, something to let Lily know that her mother loves her. Then Lily says goodbye to May and sheds some tears.

Mr. Forrest returns with Zach, saying a witness saw the whole thing happen, so Zach is free. Zach gives Lily a huge hug and both he and Mr. Forrest offer condolences for May's death. Zach is unhappy, saying he caused May's death, but August soundly scolds him, saying no one could have stopped it.

Lily helps Zach and August drape a black crepe material over each bee hive. August explains it both keeps the bees from leaving because someone died and ensures the resurrection of the dead person. August tells Lily the story of Aristaeus, in which bees have power over death. To answer Lily's questions, August simply says the black cloths are a reminder to the living that death brings rebirth.

The Daughters of Mary show up with huge amounts of food. Lily notices that no one thinks of her as different — as a white person — anymore. She also realizes how wonderful African-American women are and scoffs at the policeman who said she "lowered" herself.

The second morning of the vigil, August finds a suicide note out near where they found May's body. May wrote that August and June should not be sad, but instead be happy that May is with her sister, parents, and grandmother. Although she was tired of carrying the sadness of the world, it was her time to die but their time to live. August tells June she must marry Neil and stop being afraid to take a risk.

The vigil goes on for four days; during that time June is quietly thinking. They then take the drapes off the hives, and when the funeral home takes May away for the burial, the bees swarm around the black cemetery. That night, Lily can still hear the humming bees, and she remembers August's point about the spiritual (Mary) being in all of nature.


If growing up involves considering other people before yourself and learning to deal with the sadness of the world without letting it break you, this chapter shows Lily's progress in these areas. Lily realizes how much August is hurting and respectfully keeps her distance, allowing August to mourn. This is quite a turning point in Lily's maturation.

May's death is filled with symbolism. The stone that weighs her down in the river is the material of her wailing wall. All of the sadness, evil, and ugliness of the world are contained in that wall, and now a piece of that same stone weighs May down in death, just as the knowledge of evil weighed her down in life. May could not, in effect, deal with the weight of the world.

Lily, too, is thinking about the sadness of the world. She considers May's death — the death of a woman she admired and loved — and she doesn't know what to think. She remembers the comments of the policeman who came to the house, who devalued her for living with African Americans. Her thoughts ramble on to Zach's situation in jail, and she dreams about the prejudice in people's hearts. Unlike May, however, Lily has help in coming to terms with these things.

That help arrives in the words of her mentor, August, who reminds Lily not to live with regrets and sadness, as May did. She reminds Lily that no one could have stopped May's actions, just as no one can blame Zach for being in jail. Lily, August, and June have to go on with their lives and put regrets behind them. August's words are also paralleled by the long vigil and the process of laying May to rest.

Lily has known about death only through her mother's violent, explosive ending. She was too young to take in the concept of "forever" when she was four years old. But now she is old enough to understand what death means. In her mind, many ideas about life, death, rebirth, and nature are processing. She observes how adults lay their loved ones to rest and how the vigil is a fitting way for the people who are left behind to say goodbye. Sadness and mourning are part of the ritual, but remembering good qualities and good times are also an element in considering the value of a life.

When Lily and August go out to drape the bee hives, August speaks of death as part of a cycle that also contains rebirth. Draping the hives is less about the bees and more of a reminder to the living that life leads to death, which gives way to rebirth. August speaks to Lily of Aristaeus and of the early Christians and their beliefs in rebirth.

Nature is always a part of the story, whether in the bee world or the human world, and tying those worlds together is the ever-present face of religion. It is important for Lily to hear these ideas and think about them, because they give her courage to finally deal with her past, her regrets, and the death of her mother.

Chapter 11


After May's funeral, August and June begin a week of mourning, staying away from everyone. Lily writes in her notebook but misses her old routine with the family. She roams the woods looking for signs from her mother, and then pulls out her old map to decide what city she and Rosaleen should go to next. During this period, Zach talks with Lily about law school, but she can see that he has changed. His jail stay has turned him into an angry young man, who is drawn to the likes of Malcolm X and the Afro-American Unity group. Lily wishes he were the Zach she remembers, but he tells her they can't change their skin. Instead they have to change the world.

Once the mourning is over, the women have dinner together, say prayers, and August folds May's suicide note up and slips it in a crack in the side of Our Lady's neck. Lily decides to move back to the honey house to be alone. She resolves to tell August her story the next day and slides her mother's things under her pillow. All night she tosses and dreams, fearful of what August's reaction will be.

The next morning, Lily goes to the kitchen and sees the others making cakes for Mary Day. It is August 15, and they are celebrating the Assumption, during which the Daughters will reenact Mary's story. Neil arrives first and asks June to marry him, and she accepts. When they return from a ride, June is wearing an engagement ring. The Daughters come with Zach, and Lily is reminded that she really loves this place and these people. Lunelle offers to make Lily a hat, and Lily requests a blue one.

During that evening's ceremony, they eat honey cakes, bring in Our Lady of Chains, and take her out to the honey house for the night. There is music and a retelling of the promise that those who are cast down will be lifted up and those who are in chains will be freed.

Zach and Lily go for a walk, and Zach admits to his anger. Lily makes him promise he will work on that and not become a bully; Zach agrees. Zach says he will work hard in school, and then go to college. Then he tells Lily he cares about her. Even though they can't be together now, Zach promises they will be in the future. He puts his dog tags around Lily's neck.


This chapter marks a reflective time for Lily. August is tied up with her own mourning and thoughts, which means that Lily is essentially alone. But her newfound maturity has taught her to respect August's space. Lily thinks about her mother and roams the forest looking for a sign of her love; much of the time she is depressed and stays in bed. But each of these actions shows a new Lily who is learning about herself and thinking about what August has taught her. Along with these new and reflective ideas, Lily also realizes she must plot the next move for herself and Rosaleen.

Lily also begins to discover the adult realization that life cannot stand still. People are always changing, and everyone grows up and leaves childhood behind. The world hardens the soft spots in everyone. She recognizes that in Zach there are now hard places that didn't exist before he spent time in jail. He still has a passion, a drive to make his idea of being a lawyer come true. But at the same time, he wants to shape a world where he and Lily can be together without fear.

During this time of reflection, Lily grasps how much she loves this place and these people: the Daughters with their crazy hats; the beekeeping; the sisters and the zany water fight; the wedding plans; and the umbrella over them all (Our Lady). The Mary Day ceremony is a time of remembering, and the Daughters exhort everyone to think about their power, their glory, and the promise that they will be lifted up. On the other hand, Lily does not want to remember her past: killing her mother; living with her father; and the unhappy life she left behind.

Chapter 12


Lily waits in August's bedroom, wanting to finally tell of her past. She looks at a picture book of Mary, in which each photo has the angel Gabriel presenting Mary with a lily. August arrives, and Lily tells her it's time to have a talk.

August tells Lily she knows who her mother was. Lily is shocked that August knew all along. The first day Lily arrived, August recognized her as Deborah's daughter. Lily doesn't understand why August didn't tell her sooner. August explains that Lily needed to have some time to get her life and thoughts together, so August waited.

August was a housekeeper in Deborah's house in Richmond, and she took care of little Deborah. August shares details of Deborah's personality, but August wants to know about Lily's life with T. Ray. So Lily tells her about T. Ray and begins to sob when she says her mother left her. August holds her close and lets her cry. Sobbing, Lily explains about T. Ray half-killing her and about Rosaleen's bruises. Then Lily describes breaking Rosaleen out of jail because she was afraid the white men would kill her.

Weeping, Lily explains that she is a bad person who tells lies. She hates T. Ray and other people. She admits killing her mother, and it breaks her heart because it's the biggest secret of all. And finally Lily says, "I am unlovable." August replies that there are all kinds of people who love her, including June: The reason June resented her at first was because August had worked as a maid in Deborah's house. August says she loves Lily. But one thing she can't figure out is how Lily knew to come to Tilburon, so Lily shows her the picture her mother wrote on. Then she explains the honey labels she saw in the grocery store when she and Rosaleen first arrived.

August explains that she went to work for Deborah's mother when Deborah was four, and Deborah had the same independent streak as Lily. When August left the Fontanel home, Deborah was 19. Two years later, Deborah called August when her mother died, before moving to Sylvan and meeting T. Ray. She describes T. Ray as a decorated soldier who treated Deborah like a princess. He proposed to her, but she turned him down because he was too common. Then she got pregnant, so he married her. Now Lily feels guilty because she caused their terrible marriage.

August got letters the first two years from Deborah, filled with love for Lily and her accomplishments. Then Deborah came and stayed with August for two months. She was thin and had dark circles under her eyes. She was alone and depressed and unlike herself. August explains that she took Deborah to a doctor because she was skin and bones; the doctor suggested a mental institution, because Deborah was having a nervous breakdown.. Lily doesn't understand depression; she hears only that her mother left her, and Lily now feels hatred toward her, although she is reluctant to let go of the romantic stories she has spun about her mother.

August continues the story. After another month, Deborah decided to go get Lily, and she discussed a divorce with Clayton Forrest. She left August to go back to Sylvan and get her daughter. Lily then recounts how she shot her mother once she came home. Bitter and disillusioned, Lily is done and wants to sleep. August explains that she needs to forgive her mother and that people aren't perfect: Her mother tried to make things right.


This pivotal chapter is the turning point of the novel. August tells Lily what she knows about the past, and Lily explains to August how she happened to come to Tilburon. Throughout this telling of stories, however, Lily is not ready to fully listen or forgive. This tells us that her maturation is not complete.

August fills in all the details about Deborah that Lily has never heard. She had a house where she grew up and parents and a housekeeper. August, the housekeeper, ironed her dresses and made her lunches. She liked peanut butter. She loved playing with dolls and climbed a tree to avoid memorizing "Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening." Deborah becomes a real flesh and blood person, a person T. Ray didn't share with Lily after Deborah's death.

Lily is filled with self-loathing. She hates herself, hates being a liar, and hates that she killed her mother. She is sure no one will ever love her. No matter what August says, Lily can't get beyond her self-hatred. She sobs unremittingly as August tries to comfort her. She can't forgive herself.

Her anger toward T. Ray has never been in question. But August gets Lily to think beyond herself and understand that, at one point, T. Ray loved her mother. This is an idea totally foreign to Lily. She can't reconcile the angry, ugly T. Ray she knows with a young man who fell in love with her mother. Lily has never considered what T. Ray lost when Deborah left. Obviously, his pride was lost, but he also lost the woman he loved. Even though Lily is not yet ready to forgive T. Ray, August's words do sink into her head.

Lily is also angry about her mother's leaving her. No matter what August says, Lily won't forgive her mother. August tries to explain that her mother had a nervous breakdown, wasn't herself, and was making plans to divorce. But Lily doesn't understand what a breakdown is or why a mother would think of anyone other than her child. She isn't ready to let herself or her mother off the hook, nor is she willing to throw away all the romantic stories she has made up about her mother or her mother's love for her. Forgiveness is still an impossible feeling at this point in her life. Thankfully, August understands that Lily needs time to process all this information, so she leaves her to do that, realizing that many issues are still unresolved in Lily's mind.

Chapter 13


Lily spends a sleepless night in the honey house. She unleashes all the anger inside her and throws all the jars of honey against the back wall, breaking them in her rage. Then she throws a tin pail and tray of candle molds. She's half-mad, and her arms are bleeding. She feels empty because all the romantic dreams of her mother have been cancelled by the fact that her mother left her. She lies down in a fetal position near Mary. Lily wants to open a door in Mary and climb in for consolation.

The next morning, Rosaleen shakes her awake, demanding to know what happened. She takes Lily to the house and cleans up her cuts. Lily tells her that she found out the truth about her mother's leaving her, and Rosaleen confirms the fact from phone conversations she'd overheard in Sylvan. Lily explains what August told her and discovers a terrible bitterness in her voice. She asks Rosaleen why she didn't tell her before, and Rosaleen gently asks why she would hurt Lily that way. They both revert to silence and clean up the disorder in the honey house.

That afternoon, the Daughters show up and everyone feasts on Rosaleen's corn fritters. Lily doesn't talk to Zach but asks August to tell him about her mother. June plays the cello for the last part of the ceremony. Neil and Zach bring Our Lady out to the yard. They chant about Mary's escape and put their arms in the air with a powerful message of her Daughters' rising. But a brooding Lily doesn't join in. August turns a jar of honey over the head of the statue. Then, like a beehive, the queen's attendants rub the honey all over the statue. This time Lily does participate. August explains that the honey is like holy water and they are preserving the statue for another year. Both ants and bees show up for the honey, and Lily feels content for now.

After eating, they wash off the statue and take it back to the parlor. Lily goes back to the honey house to think. August comes to see her with a hatbox filled with a few of Deborah's belongings, and Lily is so stunned that she asks August to tell her what is in the box, rather than looking at the contents herself.

Lily's heart starts thudding. There's an oval pocket mirror, and Lily gets off her bed to sit closer and see it. August tells Lily that if she looks in the mirror she will see her mother's face. There is also a hairbrush, worn down from holding. In the brush is a long, black, wavy hair. Lily is astonished. She then realizes that no matter how hard she tries, she can't leave her mother behind. Deborah stays in the "tender places in you." August then drops a gold pin shaped like a whale into Lily's hand. Next, August brings out a black book of English poetry she'd given Deborah. Lily's mother had underlined eight lines by William Blake about the destructive nature of love. Finally, August gives Lily a photo of mother and daughter, set in an oval frame. In it, Deborah is feeding Lily with a tiny spoon; suddenly Lily knows this photo is the sign she wanted.


This very important chapter has a rhythm and pace to it that begins Lily's change from an angry young woman to an understanding, loved daughter. It begins with her destruction of the honey house, continues on to the consoling ritual of the Daughters of Mary, and ends with August's amazing revelations to Lily about her mother.

After August explains the past and Deborah, Lily goes back to the honey house to give up her last vestiges of being a victim and murderer. It has been her place in life to be both a punching bag to her father and the murderer of her mother. Now she must acknowledge her rage at herself and her anger with her mother's memory. She flings everything she can find at the wall of the honey house, determined to show the world how badly she's been treated. She doesn't want to let go of her hatred for her father and her sadness because her mother left her. To let go of that after all this time will leave her wondering who she now is. But once she has let out all of her rage, she falls into a fitful sleep.

The next day, Lily doesn't want to be part of the community or even speak with Zach. Everyone leaves her alone, sensing that she is trying to deal with her emotions. But she is drawn into the powerful ritual of the Daughters' covering Mary with life-giving honey. Lily begins to come out of her anger and realize there is a place for her, where people love her and include her in their community. This is the turning point for Lily; the point at which she begins to accept who she is without all the baggage of the past. When the ceremony ends and Mary is washed clean, August wisely leaves Lily to go back to the honey house alone to think. But she has seen that Lily is beginning to once again join the community.

August's visit to the honey house is a perfect extension of the discussion they had in her bedroom. She knows that Lily is whole enough to accept the presents that were her mother's things. Before Lily forgave herself and her mother, the items would have been thrown at the walls with the jars of honey. But now, Lily has had time to understand that she is a woman in her own right and nothing that has happened in the past is going to change that. People will have to respect her for who she is and what she believes. Now is the time August can reintroduce Deborah to her daughter, understanding that Lily is now ready to accept the idea that her mother loved her and didn't abandon her.

It is a poignant moment when Lily sees her mother's hair in the brush and realizes she truly did exist and she had love, dreams, and hopes for her daughter and herself in a new place, away from Sylvan. The underlined words in the book of poetry speak to a young woman who is bitterly disappointed in love, and it shows Lily the state of her mother's mind at that time. If she felt that way, Lily could understand why she was leaving T. Ray but would be coming back for her most precious daughter. The photograph seals that understanding, when Lily sees her mother looking at her with love. It is the emotional turning point and the beginning of healing for Lily.

Chapter 14


Lily spends the early days of August reflecting on what she has learned. Although her heart feels like ice, her head considers why it's so hard for people to forgive. She varies between being angry at her mother for leaving and pondering what she now knows about her. Lily realizes that wallowing in her grief was a tool she used to make her special. It forced everyone to tiptoe around her.

June and Neil set the date for their wedding: October 10. Everyone busily works on cakes, dresses, and themes. June regrets not saying "yes" sooner so May could be there, but August reminds her that regrets don't help.

Everyone seems to be healing. Rosaleen buys a new dress and she is going to register to vote, only this time at a black high school. Everyone goes with Rosaleen to the high school except Lily, who ends up regretting that she didn't go so she could tell Rosaleen how proud she was. Zach calls with the news that he is going to the white high school in the fall, although they both assume Lily will end up going back to T. Ray. That night, Rosaleen reminds everyone she can now vote, and Lily impulsively hugs her and tells her she loves her.

Lily cleans house. Not only does she thoroughly clean the honey house, but she also throws out some of her old things. She puts her mother's items out on display and decides that no one is perfect.

The next day, Lily wears her mother's pin, and she and August attend to one of the hives that is queen-less. August explains that her story about Beatrix (the nun) was supposed to let Lily know that maybe Mary could stand in for Deborah. August quietly but firmly explains that Mary is someone inside of you — you have to find the mother in your own heart. Our Lady was the voice telling Lily not to bow down to T. Ray early in the novel. It's a power Lily has, a confidence to persist. Everyone has it.

That afternoon, when Lily is alone in the house, T. Ray shows up with a nasty smile. Lily tries to stay calm. He explains it was a big mistake to call him from Mr. Forrest's office because that's how he found her. When T. Ray called the number, the gossipy secretary told him everything.

Suddenly, T. Ray sees Deborah's pin. When he finds out Deborah was at August's after she left him the first time, he is shocked. For the first time, Lily can see how much he loved her mother and how it hurt him when Deborah left. She realizes she'd never considered his pain before. T. Ray slaps her hard, and she falls back on the statue of Mary. He kicks her and calls her "Deborah" and says she's not leaving him again. He has his knife out and doesn't realize she's Lily. When she shouts "Daddy," he comes to his senses and drops the knife. Then she says she's sorry she left him.

August and Rosaleen come to the doorway, but Lily waves them away. Her father, with hurt in his eyes, explains that Lily looks like Deborah. She now understands why he treated her so badly. He says, "We're going home," but Lily tells him that she's not leaving.

August comes in and tells T. Ray that Lily can live with her as long as she wants. The Daughters all show up, and T. Ray tries to think of a way to save face. August perceives his confusion and explains to the Daughters that T. Ray is Lily's father who has come to visit. He looks at all the strong women and falters. August says she is teaching Lily beekeeping and she will put Lily in school in the fall. T. Ray leaves, slamming the door. But Lily goes running after his truck. She wants to know if she really did kill her mother. He tells her she did, but that she didn't mean to.

It is November now, and June and Neil are married. Lunelle created a hat for Lily to wear that is fabulous. Clayton Forrest comes by to say that the Sylvan police will be dropping the charges against Lily and Rosaleen. Lily becomes friends with Forrest's daughter, Becca. Zach, Lily, and Becca see each other at school, and Lily doesn't mind that the other teenagers call them "nigger lovers."

Lily keeps her mother's picture beside her. She feels closer to Mary, too, who fills the sadness in her heart. Then she remembers how all the Daughters stood up for her that day; Lily realizes that she is no longer motherless.


The last chapter presents the culmination of many themes in the story and demonstrates the lessons of maturity Lily has internalized. Forgiveness, self-confidence, understanding, and knowledge are all ideas that show Lily's growth as a human being. The chapter also ties up loose ends, such as the question of T. Ray and where he fits in Lily's future.

Lily is beginning to reach some understanding about her parents. Before, she was a cowering victim of her father, but now she faces him down and even considers his perspective and feelings. In most ways, she is a better human than he is. When she realizes that he sees her as her mother, she can begin to understand why he treated her so badly. It must have been a terrible blow to his ego to marry his pregnant girlfriend, and then see her leave him, realizing that the community knew, too.

"Daddy" is the name she could never call T. Ray before, but when she screams it, T. Ray recognizes her and sees that he is hurting her, not her mother. When Lily refuses to bend to him and explains that she, too, is leaving him, she does so fully understanding that she has chosen a community of women over her own father. Even T. Ray seems to recognize that she is different, more grown up, and better off in the company of strong women. She is no longer the traumatized victim.

Lily held up her mother as a symbol of what mothers should be like, and yet her mother abandoned her. Now that Lily knows the true story — that her mother was returning for her — she also can let go of the romanticized ideal of her mother. August has explained that her mother was not perfect and she certainly could not have taken care of Lily in her debilitated state, not until she recovered. Before, Lily had romantic pictures in her head of Deborah's brushing her hair and holding her. She had to be able to forgive her mother before August showed her the photo of Deborah feeding Lily. Now she sees that her mother truly loved her, and by forgiving Deborah, Lily can truly appreciate her mother's love. Lily's cleaning of the honey house is symbolic of throwing out all the old ideas and replacing them with what is true, honest, and strong.

Lily's newfound self-confidence in facing T. Ray down is a product of August's teachings, the power of women represented by the Daughters and Our Lady of Chains, and the model of the Boatright women themselves. When August explains that it wasn't Lily's mother's voice she heard telling her to leave T. Ray but the voice of Mary inside of her, Lily begins to understand that women do not have to be victims. They can be strong advocates for their own lives and ambitions. Just as Our Lady can break her chains, Lily can stand up to the bullies at school who call her a "nigger lover," and to her own abusive father.

However, Lily had to forgive herself before she could stand up for herself and understand she is a human being who deserves to be treated with respect. All the mourning she did following August's revelations about Deborah and all the quiet, introspective time led to this new forgiveness of herself. Lily deserves to be loved and cared for. She may have killed her mother accidentally; she cannot change that. Undoubtedly, there will continue to be times when she will still feel badly about what happened, but Lily now realizes (and T. Ray even admits) that she did not mean to do it and she must forgive herself for the accidental death of her mother. Lily has now found a home in a community that loves and cares for her, and she will continue to heal and see a better future

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