The Secret Life of Bees By Sue Monk Kidd Summary and Analysis Chapters 6-7

Summary

Chapter 6 introduces Neil, June's boyfriend of many years. He is the principal at June's school. Long ago, June was left at the altar by another man, so although she dates Neil, she refuses to marry him. Lily reflects that it's odd all three sisters are unmarried.

The Daughters of Mary have their weekly meeting at the Boatright house. An assortment of ladies in fancy hats arrive, including Queenie, Violet, Mabelee, Cressie, Singer-Girl, and her husband, Otis Hill. Lunelle is the hat maker. They sit in the presence of the Mary statue and begin to say "Hail, Mary's." This is followed by a Bible reading, and then the story of Our Lady of Chains. To August, storytelling is an important way to keep the past alive, the memory intact, and the community connected. Without stories, we forget "who we are or why we're here." Lily can tell August repeats the story the same way, every time.

The story begins in the days when slaves were yearning for freedom. A slave named Obadiah found a ship's figurehead floating in the water. He figured the Lord had sent her to rescue them, and was sure of this when the statue spoke to him, saying she was there to take care of them. When he set her on the hearth of the praise house, Pearl, the oldest slave, identified her as Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Pearl said mothers have seen suffering and are "strong and constant" with a "mother's heart." Then the slaves danced and touched the statue's chest, where they later painted a heart. The master heard the goings-on and chained the statue in his barn, but the statue always escaped, so he gave up. The slaves called her Our Lady of Chains because she broke their chains. The Mary statue gave them hope, and with that hope, some escaped to the North.

The Daughters of Mary sing "Amazing Grace" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain," with each daughter touching Mary's heart. Lily wants very badly to touch her, too, but when she tries to, June stops the music. As a result, Lily faints. When she comes to, the sisters take care of her.

Later, watching the television news, they find out the United States is sending a rocket to the moon as part of the space race against Russia. August says it takes away the magic of the moon — one less magical symbol. Listening, Lily decides one day she will touch the statue's heart, and then tell August her true story.

Eight days have passed at the Boatright house when Chapter 7 begins. Lily still jumps when she hears a siren because she is afraid it is T. Ray having her arrested and returned home. She still feels she is loved in her new community, but the worry about her father finding her is never far behind.

A black teenage boy, Zachary Lincoln Taylor, comes to the Boatright house, and Lily sees him at first as an intrusion on her relationship with August. He helps Lily and August with the honey. Lily sees Zach as handsome, which surprises her, because she had never thought of black men as being handsome; in fact, back home, she had joined in on making fun of their looks with her schoolmates. But Zach is August's godson, a junior in high school, a football player, and a strong student. He is hoping for a scholarship to go north for college. He is surprised that Lily, a white girl, is staying with the Boatrights and asks her what she is doing there. She gives the standard reply.

They work companionably together and compare notes on their lack of futures. Zach wants to be a lawyer, not a football player, but he is black, and that will limit him. Lily wanted to be a writer but now that she's an orphan, she doesn't see that happening. Zach advises her that she must imagine what has never been.

The only anxious part of Lily's life now is June and her obvious distaste for Lily. August interrupts a conversation between June and Lily, saying Lily can stay as long as she wants. August gives Lily an opportunity to tell her the truth about her history, but although Lily would like to come clean, she keeps putting it off, afraid that August will reject her. At the same time, Lily wants to know what August might know about her mother. That night, Lily has a good cry, both because she hates lying to August and because she's afraid Rosaleen is right about her living in a dream world at the Boatright house. The same evening, June and Neil have a huge argument, and he leaves. Angrily, she yells at him not to come back.

Lily and Zach go on a trip into the country to bring back honey. The property they are on belongs to a lawyer, who helps Zach with his studies. Lily is shocked to experience sexual feelings about Zach, crying about it at one point. Zach misunderstands and thinks he has offended her. He assures her that she will be a great writer. They see a sign for Tilburon that mentions the home of Willifred Marchant, who is a writer and Tilburon's only claim to fame.

When they return, Rosaleen is moving out of the honey house in order to sleep in the main house near May. August is reading Jane Eyre. That evening, Lily begins reflecting on how her body is turning into that of a woman. Zach has awakened feelings in her that she has never felt before. She daydreams about him, and her dreams are mixed up with her mother calling her name. Two days later, Zach brings Lily a notebook to write in, and she hugs him. It is more than a brotherly/sisterly hug. He warns her that people would kill him for just looking at a white girl. Lily begins writing every day in her notebook, and later reading her stories to Zach.

Analysis

Chapter 6 reveals the source of June's unhappiness; Lily learns that she was left at the altar many years earlier. Her fear of being hurt again by a man causes her to argue with her boyfriend, Neil. Despite dating for many years, she continually refuses to marry him. This conflict causes her overall unhappiness and explains her treatment of Lily.

The Daughters of Mary have a form of religion that is also a social community. Mary has been their source of hope, from slavery until the present day, and followers have been passing their stories down from generation to generation, taking great pride in their history. Their religious services are somewhat like those at conventional churches, but also not: Hymns, spirituals, joy, dancing, storytelling, and fellowship are key parts of their beliefs. The Daughters accept Lily as a friend, but she is not black, and this bothers June, who stops the music when Lily goes to touch the statue. Lily is so overcome by this enmity that she faints. But Lily understands the idea of Mary and of hope, and her yearning for her mother connects with her new ideas about Mary.

Lily is still in conflict over whether to tell August about her past. When Lily goes to the house to check on Rosaleen's moving, she sees August is reading Jane Eyre, a novel of Charlotte Bronte's that is similar in some respects to Lily's life. The novel's protagonist, Jane, is an orphan who survives a horrible time in a cruel orphanage and rises to become tutor to a rich man's daughter. She overcomes terrible secrets, an unhappy romance, and her own poor beginnings to finally find happiness. August simply tells Lily that the novel is about a motherless girl who leaves home.

Another thread in Lily's maturation is her relationship with Zach. He causes a sexual awakening in her that is confusing, especially because she has no mother to talk with about these things. Lily is again surprised that she sees Zach as a handsome man, given that she grew up in a culture that believed black people are not beautiful. Lily also feels a connection with Zach because they are both outsiders, persecuted for their color or poor status. Zach understands that their relationship can't happen; in fact, he knows that it is a dangerous idea that could bring violence — even death — into their lives. So, at the moment when they almost kiss, Zach pulls back.

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




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