The Secret Life of Bees By Sue Monk Kidd Summary and Analysis Chapters 3-4

Summary

It is the next morning. Waiting for Rosaleen to wake up, Lily studies the picture of the black Mary, trying to figure out why her mother had it. Having been raised Baptist, Lily has always been told to convert Catholics. In fact, Brother Gerald taught her that Hell was designed for Catholics. Now Lily believes her mother must have been mixed up somehow with Catholics, given that she had this picture and Baptists don't talk much about Mary.

Rosaleen wakes up, and they start walking toward Tilburon. Neither has eaten, so Lily suggests they find a hotel and get some food, but Rosaleen explains that a hotel won't take a black woman. When Lily demands to know why the Civil Rights Act doesn't help that, a shrewd Rosaleen explains that the law doesn't mean people will change their minds.

So far, Lily has no plan, but she hopes the voice that persuaded her to leave will come back. She waits for a sign. They come upon the Frogmore Stew General Store and Restaurant. Lily goes to the restaurant to buy food; the owner, not recognizing her, asks where she's from. Lily lies, saying she is visiting her grandmother. She persuades the owner to open her two purchased Coca-Colas, and when he leaves momentarily, she steals snuff for Rosaleen. Guilt-stricken, Lily promises herself she'll send a dollar back to the store sometime in the future. Suddenly she sees the sign she has been looking for. On a store shelf are dozens of honey jars with the exact black Madonna in her mother's picture. The owner explains that "the woman who makes the honey is colored herself," and her name is August Boatright. She lives outside town in a pink house.

Lily hurries back to Rosaleen and explains this sign. She is sure her mother must have known the honey collector. They walk through the town, and Lily checks the post office for their pictures on wanted posters. Fortunately they are neither there nor in the newspapers.

The two continue walking, coming to a place that will provide refuge. When they reach the edge of town, they see a pink house and a woman walking around who looks like "an African bride." August Boatright is dressed in white, with a helmet that has veils attached. She swings a bucket that is belching smoke, and bees fly up from boxes on the ground. Lily and Rosaleen watch before approaching the pink house. June Boatwright answers the door, followed by May. Both are August's sisters. June invites them in, and Lily can feel instinctively that her mother was in this house at some time. Her whole body tingles. Lily is amazed by the smell of furniture wax, the velvet cushions and footstools, and, mostly the carved wooden figure from a ship. She surprisingly tells August the truth: They've run away from home. Even though June objects, August says they may stay for awhile.

Lily and Rosaleen discover more about the Boatrights. Rosaleen asks about the Boatright sisters' names, and May explains that her mother named them for her favorite months. A fourth sister named April died when she was little. May then begins humming "Oh! Susanna" and breaks into tears. August tells her to go to her wall to finish her cry. Lily and Rosaleen are puzzled by this ritual.

Lily lies about their last names — Smith and Williams — and says her mother died when she was little and her father recently died in a tractor accident in Spartanburg County. To avoid being sent to a home, they ran away. Rosaleen is the housekeeper, and they're going to Virginia to find Lily's aunt, but need to earn money first. When August asks about Rosaleen's bruises, Lily says Rosaleen fell down the stairs.

August explains that she is from Virginia and, immediately, Lily gets a strange, tingling feeling once again. The Boatright sisters offer them room and board, and say they can call Lily's aunt to get bus money. Lily says she doesn't know her aunt's last name. August lets them stay for awhile but it is clear that she does not believe Lily's stories. They will stay and sleep on cots in the honey house. It is a one-room building with all kinds of machines and tools for making honey for distribution. A thin coating of honey lies over everything. August explains that Zach — a hired boy — will be back soon to help with the honey and that Lily can work with him.

Despite being in a strange place, Lily feels that she belongs, but she also feels very white. Lily tells Rosaleen not to tell anyone about her mother's wooden picture. The prospect of talking to August about her mother makes Lily feel uneasy.

The next day, Lily goes outside to explore and can see fourteen beehives. She learns that August was left twenty-eight acres of land by her grandfather. Lily then walks over to a stone wall and finds hundreds of bits of paper, folded up, in the cracks between stones. One refers to Birmingham, where four angels died on September 15. Lily suddenly feels guilty for intruding, so she leaves and walks down to a river. She takes off her shoes and wades in it, feeling at peace. Lily wishes life could always be like this without cruel people like T. Ray or Gaston.

Analysis

In these two chapters, the epigrams about bees sum up what is about to occur. At the beginning of Chapter 3, the circle of attendants refers to the Boatwright sisters, and Lily believes she will find out about her mother, the queen bee, through them. Chapter 4 begins with an epigram that describes the female establishment at the home of the Boatright sisters, who seem to get along fine without males. Life in the Boatright home is quiet in comparison to the violence in Lily's life back home.

Religion continues to be a dominant theme as Lily notices the ship's figurehead. It is a black woman, and Lily instantly realizes it is Mary, mother of Jesus. Her heart aches because she believes Mary can see into her cheating conscience and recognize her hatred of T. Ray, of the girls at school, and of herself. But at the same time, Lily feels deep love for herself. Her understanding of right and wrong is awakened by her religious upbringing, and she refers to it once at the end of Chapter 4, when she wishes evil men like T. Ray and Gaston were not part of her world.

Lily also spends a great deal of time trusting her instincts, a decidedly mature trait. When she first sees the black Madonna at the grocery store, she is sure her mother was there or was connected somehow with the honey sellers. She believes that August will be a "portal" to finding out about her mother. Lily feels as though she has a spiritual connection with her mother, given that she senses her presence in this house. Even the mention of Virginia leaves Lily shaking as if she is instinctively sensing something about her mother's past. However, she feels uneasy talking to August about Deborah, and she isn't sure why.

Another continuing motif is Lily's use of lies to forward her plans. She lies to the grocery store owner and to August about their names, the nature of her mother and father's deaths, and Rosaleen's bruises. Lily has not lived in a world where people can be trusted, so she trusts her own instincts when it comes to revealing too much.

The Boatright home is an education in race. The sisters are intelligent and competent, running their own business and doing well. Because T. Ray taught Lily that black women aren't smart, or at least not as smart as white women, Lily is amazed by these women. She realizes that she has been prejudiced by her upbringing. She also is shocked that June would be prejudiced against her, a white girl. It is always the other way around. This is another lesson about growing up: An understanding of all forms of prejudice is necessary in order to realize that skin color is not a fair way to assess peoples' characters. The Civil Rights theme is again brought up with a reference to the senseless Birmingham church bombing, where four children died. In addition, Lily doesn't understand why Rosaleen can't stay in a hotel in spite of the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Prejudice is a wall Lily hasn't quite figured out, but she's beginning to see that the world isn't exactly as described to children.

The nature of good and evil is a question in Lily's mind. People who bomb churches and kill children are evil. T. Ray and Gaston are part of evil, so Lily wonders why they exist. As they grow up, children have to devise ways to cope with the evil and sadness in the world. May is a symbol of what happens when a person feels too deeply about tragedy in the world. She can't deal with that knowledge, and it has crippled her life.

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




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