The Secret Life of Bees By Sue Monk Kidd Summary and Analysis Chapter 8

Summary

While Lily and August put labels on the honey jars, they talk. Lily begins thinking about the picture of the Black Madonna and how her mother looked at the same picture. August explains that she read about Black Madonnas in school and learned they aren't unusual in Europe. When Lily asks why she labeled her honey that way, August explains that she wanted to give the Daughters of Mary a divine being that is their own color. August then further enumerates her beliefs, including the idea that the spirit of Mary is alive everywhere in nature. Then she talks about her grandmother (who taught her about beekeeping) and her mother — Lily realizes for the first time that August misses her mother, too.

Lily hears August's story about her parents and also her opinions about marriage. August's father was a black dentist in Richmond, which was where he met August's mother, who was working in a hotel laundry. August she spent her childhood summers with her grandmother. She then went to college and was a history teacher for a few years, until her grandmother left her the house and 28 acres, where she has lived for eighteen years. When Lily questions August about love and marriage, she explains that she fell in love once but loved her freedom more. She does not plan to marry, because it would restrict her life.

They go out in the woods to check on the bees. August explains that the hardest thing in life is choosing what matters. She has Lily listen to the bees in the hives, where each has a role to play but mostly lead secret lives. The queen in the hive, however, is a mother to thousands. The bees then fly out of the hive and cover Lily. Remembering what August said about Mary being in nature everywhere, Lily lets the bees surround her. Having a spiritual moment, Lily remembers the day her mother died and wishes (privately) that she could go back and fix the "bad things." August asks Lily to talk about herself, but Lily nervously says they will talk later.

Zach arrives and is heading to Mr. Forrest's law office to deliver honey. He says there is a rumor that a movie star, Jack Palance, is coming to Tilburon with a black girlfriend. Supposedly, Palance plans to visit his sister and go to the movie theatre, where he and his girlfriend will sit downstairs in the white section. This may stir up violence in the town. Hearing this, Lily wishes God had made everyone one color. She wants to go with Zach to town, but August is afraid. Finally, though, August relents and lets Lily go.

Zach takes Lily to Mr. Forrest's law office. She meets his eighty-year-old receptionist, Miss Lacy, who is shocked that Lily is staying in a black household. Lily assumes Miss Lacy will now gossip and tell the rest of the town. Zach introduces Lily to Mr. Forrest, who is kind to her. He takes Zach back to his office while Lily waits in another room, where she sees a photo of Mr. Forrest with his daughter. Looking at the photo, she believes she is looking at a father who loves his daughter; she muses that he probably even knows what her favorite color is. This makes her think of T. Ray, and she picks up the telephone and calls him. She expects him to be worried and concerned, but instead he is angry, telling her she's in big trouble. She asks him if he knows her favorite color, but he ignores her question and threatens to find her and, when he does, to hurt her. She hangs up and fights tears because he will never be the father she wants. He doesn't know the simplest things about her.

The visit to the law office upsets Lily. Mr. Forrest returns and, in a pleasant and cordial way, asks her some questions about her. She makes excuses to leave so she won't have to answer his questions. She and Zach return to the Boatright house, Where Lily goes to her room and writes an angry letter to T. Ray. It is about Father's Day and a card she once spent hours making for him; she found later that he had used it to hold peach skins. She writes that she hates him and doesn't believe her mother left her. Then she tears the letter to pieces. That night, when Lily goes into the house to go to the bathroom, she speaks to the statue of Mary as if she's her mother and asks for her help.

Analysis

Lily hasn't had a strong woman in her life to teach her the lessons she needs to know. When August takes Lily on as a beekeeper, August also becomes a surrogate mother, who talks to Lily about issues a mother would discuss. In this chapter, several conflicts and themes are developed through Lily's and August's conversations. First, August talks about her philosophy about making choices. Then Lily begins to consider how humans can learn from nature. Finally, Lily comes face to face with her realization that her romantic dreams are not reality.

August teaches Lily a great deal about growing up and making choices, and these are lessons she did not learn from T. Ray. August discusses choices and the idea that peoples' lives depend on the choices they make. The idea that a woman would decide to be on her own and not marry is a revelation to Lily. But, as August explains, women had few opportunities, especially black women. August is lucky enough to own land and a thriving business, so if she marries, she would restrict her freedom to choose. Lily never considered the possibility that a woman could be so strong. August is a strong role model for imagination, passion, intelligence, and leadership, a model that is totally alien to the one to which she was exposed while growing up.

As Lily works with August and notices her patience in dealing with the bees, Lily learns that bees have a great deal to teach humans. The queen is instrumental in sustaining life and making it rich. Without her, the hive cannot thrive, prosper, or reproduce. Just as a strong woman can create a community of workers and thrive in that community, the hive is filled with only one queen and many workers who follow her lead and who have jobs to do. Lily absorbs this lesson as she spends more time working with both August and the bees.

In this chapter, Lily still has many romantic notions about parents and family. When she sees the photo of Mr. Forrest with his daughter, she feels a yearning for a father who cares about her and who cares enough to remember the details of her life. She keeps thinking that T. Ray could come around and be that kind of loving parent. But when she calls him, she discovers that her world is not going to be like the photograph of the happy family. She hopes he misses her, but finds that he is only angry that she's escaped him. The letter she then writes (but does not send) is filled with yearning and a tremendous need for love. Her thoughts about the Father's Day card make her see that no matter what she does to make him pay attention or love her, he won't, which is why she tears up the letter.

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According to Rosaleen, the bees swarming in Lily's bedroom are a sign of what?




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