The Secret Life of Bees By Sue Monk Kidd Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Summary

Lily and Rosaleen have been at the Boatright house for one week, and they are fitting in and learning the routine of the household. Lily is figuring out both the business and the family. Honey surrounds their lives. Lily discovers, to her astonishment, that August has a mail-order honey business that extends to Vermont and beyond. August begins to teach her about the bees, stressing that Lily must love them because everything in the world needs love. Lily works very hard at learning beekeeping, because she believes if August comes to love her, she won't send her back home to T. Ray.

As they learn the routine, Lily and Rosaleen work on understanding the sisters. While Lily is working with August, Rosaleen is helping May in the house. The sisters buy Rosaleen a new set of clothing, and she and May get along well. Rosaleen understands that May is a bit "slow" — a child in an adult body. She also understands that the singing of "Oh! Susanna" is May's attempt to keep from crying about sad things. She can't even hurt a bug, so she carries spiders out of the house rather than kill them. June is a teacher at the African-American high school and plays the cello, often at funerals. It is clear to Lily that June does not like that Lily and Rosaleen are staying at the house, but Lily doesn't understand why. She begins to figure it out, however, when she overhears a conversation between June and August. June is angry because she and August both know Lily is telling lies about her past. August protests that they can't send Lily back to where she came from, because Lily has a sadness that makes leaving a bad plan. August thinks maybe they can help Lily. June is also angry because Lily is white, which means she doesn't belong there.

In the evening they sit and watch the television news. Lily likes Walter Cronkite, the news anchor. But there is continuous news about violence related to the Civil Rights Movement, and Lily wonders why violence seems to be increasing, given that the Civil Rights Act was just passed. May becomes so upset at the news that they have to put her in a warm bath and calm her down.

One evening, Lily attends the sisters' religious ceremony. They say "Hail, Mary's," while looking at the statue they have named "Our Lady of Chains." August explains that their mother was Catholic but their father was "Orthodox Eclectic." This gives them some latitude to make up their own flourishes to the Catholic beliefs. August tells a story to Lily about a nun named Beatrix who ran away from her convent. While she was gone, Mary was standing in for her. Lily thinks August is trying to tell her she knows Lily has run away, and that if she asks Mary for help she'll find peace.

Lily and Rosaleen discover the story behind May's wall. May's problems began when her twin, April, died by suicide. August describes an event where racism caused April great sadness, and she began to become more and more depressed, eventually shooting herself with a shotgun. Since April's death, May also suffers from depression and sadness. Now she is so empathetic to other people's pain that it overwhelms her. So June and August invented her wailing wall, similar to the one in Jerusalem. When May gets sad, she goes to her wall, writes down what makes her sad, and sticks it in a crack in the wall, like a prayer. This calms her.

Lily understands that sadness. She compares May's overwhelming sadness to T. Ray's total indifference to people's suffering. Lily feels she wouldn't want to take either course: feel too deeply or be totally immune to suffering. Returning to the honey house, she is confronted by a sullen Rosaleen, who is jealous of the time Lily is spending with August. Their conversation is a reminder that Rosaleen feels like a mother to Lily and tries to protect her. Lily explains that she is sure August knows something about Deborah, and Lily can feel her mother's presence in the house. Rosaleen tells her to stop this silliness because she doesn't want Lily to get hurt. But once Rosaleen falls asleep, Lily goes out to the wall, writes "Deborah" on a slip of paper, and sticks it in the wall.

Analysis

Chapter 5 begins with an epigram about the bees, but this time it describes people as being small enough to follow the bees into their hive and feel the darkness. This refers to Lily's and Rosaleen's immersion in the Boatright home: There is a great happiness and love on the surface, but there is also a darkness in April's suicide and May's depression. In this community of women, Lily comes to find the love she so desperately wants. She is attracted to the family atmosphere and the way the sisters love and protect each other, so she works very hard to get August to love her so she can stay.

Underneath their relationship, however, are lies and secrets. Lily has lied about her identity, her past, and Rosaleen's injuries. August knows this, but it does not appear to upset her. Instead, she believes she can help Lily and does not want to send her back to wherever she was unhappy. Lily is keeping lots of secrets from the Boatrights, but they, too, have secrets. They distract May from painful events for fear she will be overwhelmed. And August keeps secret her disbelief of Lily's stories. But most of all, Lily is seeking to find out the secrets surrounding her mother's life and death. These secrets parallel the title of the novel and the idea that both bees and humans have complex lives that are difficult to understand.

Racism is again a motif in this chapter. When June protests that Lily is white and that she should not stay there, Lily realizes that June does not even know her. The idea that racism is senseless prejudice that fails to take a person's character into account is a new awakening for Lily. Each similar event slowly breaks down the barriers of Lily's upbringing.

Kidd emphasizes in this chapter that passing a law may simply increase violence without changing social conventions. The violence of the 1960s and the inhumanity of racism are continued in evening news broadcasts that recount various cruel and brutal events. May's intense reaction to these programs underscores the inhumane treatment of human beings for each other and their callous disregard of their victim's humanity.

This chapter also begins to dig deeper into the religious aspects of the novel. Lily and Rosaleen join the Boatrights' evening prayers, including the repetition of the Catholic "Hail, Mary." Lily is not quite sure why they call the statue "Our Lady of Chains," but she follows August's lead because she wants to be a part of this community. August's use of the story of the nun who ran away from the convent is a diplomatic and subtle way to give Lily an opportunity to talk about her own flight. It also connects the idea that religion offers an opportunity for hope. Asking Mary for help will surely make Lily's life easier. However, at this point Lily decides she is going to keep her own counsel.

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