Summary and Analysis Chapter 12



Lily waits in August's bedroom, wanting to finally tell of her past. She looks at a picture book of Mary, in which each photo has the angel Gabriel presenting Mary with a lily. August arrives, and Lily tells her it's time to have a talk.

August tells Lily she knows who her mother was. Lily is shocked that August knew all along. The first day Lily arrived, August recognized her as Deborah's daughter. Lily doesn't understand why August didn't tell her sooner. August explains that Lily needed to have some time to get her life and thoughts together, so August waited.

August was a housekeeper in Deborah's house in Richmond, and she took care of little Deborah. August shares details of Deborah's personality, but August wants to know about Lily's life with T. Ray. So Lily tells her about T. Ray and begins to sob when she says her mother left her. August holds her close and lets her cry. Sobbing, Lily explains about T. Ray half-killing her and about Rosaleen's bruises. Then Lily describes breaking Rosaleen out of jail because she was afraid the white men would kill her.

Weeping, Lily explains that she is a bad person who tells lies. She hates T. Ray and other people. She admits killing her mother, and it breaks her heart because it's the biggest secret of all. And finally Lily says, "I am unlovable." August replies that there are all kinds of people who love her, including June: The reason June resented her at first was because August had worked as a maid in Deborah's house. August says she loves Lily. But one thing she can't figure out is how Lily knew to come to Tilburon, so Lily shows her the picture her mother wrote on. Then she explains the honey labels she saw in the grocery store when she and Rosaleen first arrived.

August explains that she went to work for Deborah's mother when Deborah was four, and Deborah had the same independent streak as Lily. When August left the Fontanel home, Deborah was 19. Two years later, Deborah called August when her mother died, before moving to Sylvan and meeting T. Ray. She describes T. Ray as a decorated soldier who treated Deborah like a princess. He proposed to her, but she turned him down because he was too common. Then she got pregnant, so he married her. Now Lily feels guilty because she caused their terrible marriage.

August got letters the first two years from Deborah, filled with love for Lily and her accomplishments. Then Deborah came and stayed with August for two months. She was thin and had dark circles under her eyes. She was alone and depressed and unlike herself. August explains that she took Deborah to a doctor because she was skin and bones; the doctor suggested a mental institution, because Deborah was having a nervous breakdown.. Lily doesn't understand depression; she hears only that her mother left her, and Lily now feels hatred toward her, although she is reluctant to let go of the romantic stories she has spun about her mother.

August continues the story. After another month, Deborah decided to go get Lily, and she discussed a divorce with Clayton Forrest. She left August to go back to Sylvan and get her daughter. Lily then recounts how she shot her mother once she came home. Bitter and disillusioned, Lily is done and wants to sleep. August explains that she needs to forgive her mother and that people aren't perfect: Her mother tried to make things right.


This pivotal chapter is the turning point of the novel. August tells Lily what she knows about the past, and Lily explains to August how she happened to come to Tilburon. Throughout this telling of stories, however, Lily is not ready to fully listen or forgive. This tells us that her maturation is not complete.

August fills in all the details about Deborah that Lily has never heard. She had a house where she grew up and parents and a housekeeper. August, the housekeeper, ironed her dresses and made her lunches. She liked peanut butter. She loved playing with dolls and climbed a tree to avoid memorizing "Stopping by Woods on a Snowing Evening." Deborah becomes a real flesh and blood person, a person T. Ray didn't share with Lily after Deborah's death.

Lily is filled with self-loathing. She hates herself, hates being a liar, and hates that she killed her mother. She is sure no one will ever love her. No matter what August says, Lily can't get beyond her self-hatred. She sobs unremittingly as August tries to comfort her. She can't forgive herself.

Her anger toward T. Ray has never been in question. But August gets Lily to think beyond herself and understand that, at one point, T. Ray loved her mother. This is an idea totally foreign to Lily. She can't reconcile the angry, ugly T. Ray she knows with a young man who fell in love with her mother. Lily has never considered what T. Ray lost when Deborah left. Obviously, his pride was lost, but he also lost the woman he loved. Even though Lily is not yet ready to forgive T. Ray, August's words do sink into her head.

Lily is also angry about her mother's leaving her. No matter what August says, Lily won't forgive her mother. August tries to explain that her mother had a nervous breakdown, wasn't herself, and was making plans to divorce. But Lily doesn't understand what a breakdown is or why a mother would think of anyone other than her child. She isn't ready to let herself or her mother off the hook, nor is she willing to throw away all the romantic stories she has made up about her mother or her mother's love for her. Forgiveness is still an impossible feeling at this point in her life. Thankfully, August understands that Lily needs time to process all this information, so she leaves her to do that, realizing that many issues are still unresolved in Lily's mind.