Summary and Analysis
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.