Summary and Analysis Chapter 2



In this chapter, Lily's education in race relations really begins. Following Rosaleen's arrest, the policeman, Avery Gaston, drives Lily and Rosaleen to the jail with the three hollering men following them in a green pickup with a gun rack. Rosaleen ignores their yelling, but Lily can tell Rosaleen is scared by the way the seat is shaking. When they reach the jail, Franklin Poseyhits Rosaleen in the forehead with a heavy flashlight, and she falls to her knees. The policeman, smiling, covers Lily's mouth so she can't scream. After the beating, Lily and Gaston drag Rosaleen into jail, as Posey declares he wants an apology. The two are put in a foul-smelling jail cell. T. Ray arrives but only to free Lily, who promises to return, and although Rosaleen tries to be brave, Lily can see that she is scared. All the way home, T. Ray speeds at 70 to 80 miles per hour, and Lily can imagine the pyramid of grits he'll have waiting for her, a veritable torture chamber for this offense. T. Ray tells Lily that Posey is the "meanest nigger-hater" in Sylvan, and he'll probably kill Rosaleen. A frightened Lily realizes that he means it.

After arriving home, T. Ray goes to oversee the payroll, leaving Lily in her room and warning her not to leave. In a moment of courage, she asserts that he doesn't scare her, and he takes a swing and misses. To hurt Lily, he tells her that her mother didn't care about her and was actually leaving her when she died so long ago. Once he is gone, Lily debates this new information, half sad and half believing that he lied.

Now she must get Rosaleen out of jail before her housekeeper is killed, and Lily has decided they will leave T. Ray's forever. She packs the $38 she earned selling peaches, some clothes, a map, and her mother's things. Then she leaves a note for T. Ray ending it with, "People who tell lies like you should rot in hell."

She makes up her plan on the way to the jail. She will free Rosaleen and somehow they will go to Tilburon, South Carolina. On the way, Brother Gerald picks her up in his car, and she lies that she is taking things to Rosaleen. When Gerald explains that he is going to the jail to file charges against Rosaleen, Lily lies, saying Rosaleen is deaf and probably didn't hear him say "no" about taking the fan. And she again lies that Rosaleen, when accosted, was singing a hymn and the three men told her to shut up. Because of this information, Brother Gerald decides not to press charges against this deaf religious martyr.

Lily's newfound courage gets Rosaleen out of town. She finds out from Gaston that Rosaleen is at the hospital, but he warns Lily not to go there. Lily ignores him, going to the hospital and sneaking past the policeman. Although Rosaleen's door has a "no visitors" sign, Lily goes right in. Rosaleen cries when she sees her, and Lily sees that Rosaleen has a huge bandage on her head. It turns out that, after Lily left, two men held Rosaleen while Posey hit her, until Gaston said "enough." But she didn't apologize. Lily assures Rosaleen that they will kill her and she must escape. Lily dresses Rosaleen and takes the telltale bandage off her head, advising her to walk like a visitor. Lily finds a phone and calls the nurse's station, posing as the jailor's wife. She says to tell the policeman he must come back to the jail. Once he leaves, she and Rosaleen walk out of the hospital.

Lily is sure her mother must have been at Tilburon sometime because of the picture and name on the piece of wood. Lily plans to walk to highway 40 and thumb a ride to Tilburon. A black man in a beat-up truck gives them a ride to within three miles of Tilburon. Lily lies to the man, telling him she is visiting her aunt and Rosaleen is going to do housework. Once they are dropped off, a full moon allows them to walk in the dark; when they tire, they stop for the night at a stream. When Lily explains T. Ray's story about Deborah's returning from somewhere only to leave again, she looks at Rosaleen for confirmation. But Rosaleen says she had seen Deborah only a couple of times and she thought Lily's mom always looked sad. Rosaleen believes that this trip to find where Deborah stayed is crazy. The two argue, but they spend the night near the river and bathe in the stream. Lily falls asleep, dreaming of her mother.


Two major threads of the story come together in this chapter. Lily's decision to leave a loveless home is fueled by her resolution to help Rosaleen escape certain death. Lily's understanding of the adult world is heightened when she realizes that both her father and Rosaleen are right to be fearful about the dangerous black and white divide.

T. Ray and Rosaleen both understand how prejudice works, but Lily doesn't. Rosaleen's trembling during the police car ride and in the jail warns Lily that forces she doesn't understand are at work here. When Avery Gaston allows Rosaleen to be brutally beaten, not once but twice, he smiles and says, "I can't say what men riled up like that will do." A culture where the police tacitly accept violence is a fearful place. Lily is kept from screaming during the first beating, during which Posey smashes Rosaleen with the flashlight. The second beating puts the housekeeper in the hospital. When Lily says T. Ray will get both of them out of jail, Rosaleen answers ironically. But when T. Ray gets only Lily out, Lily says she'll be back and sees the "caved in look" on Rosaleen's face. Later, T. Ray asserts that Posey is the worst "nigger-hating" man in the town and he will kill Rosaleen. At first Lily doesn't believe him, but then she sees that he is telling the truth. Thus her understanding of prejudice is growing. The black and white divide is part of the culture: When Lily goes to the hospital, it has a wing for blacks and a wing for whites. Lily casually accepts this division, having grown up in it all her life. But she had not seen the violence until this point in her life. This motif is a continuing one throughout the novel.

Rosaleen's courage — or foolishness — gives Lily the audacity to confront her father and leave home. When her father tries to hit her, she fights back by saying her mother wouldn't allow him to hurt her. At the mention of her mother, Lily feels something deadly and cold happen with T. Ray, and as a result, a tremor goes down her spine and she is afraid. T. Ray hurts her with his strongest weapon — his sarcasm about her mother protecting her. He devastates her with the words that her mother was coming back ten years earlier in order to pack and leave Lily. While she shouts that she hates him, Lily feels her heart breaking, and the tears she had been holding in over ten years come out. She replays her memory of that day and believes her father's hurtful words. But after he leaves, she pours a tear out of her bee jar and considers that he might have lied. And she hears a voice telling her, "Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open." Lily believes it's the voice of the mother for whom she yearns. She must find out the truth about her mother, and she must get Rosaleen to safety.

Another aspect of the adult world, one that will help Lily, is a skill she has learned from her father. She leaves a note to T. Ray calling him a liar, but Lily, too, is an accomplished liar. When Brother Gerald picks her up, she convinces him not to press charges against Rosaleen, on the pretext that she is deaf and was singing a hymn when she was accosted for her religious zeal. Lily can't believe her own talent when the nurse at the hospital thinks she is truly calling from the police station, nor when she tells the black truck driver, who takes them near Tilburon, that she is visiting her aunt. Perhaps T. Ray has taught her a useful skill to help her survive.

The bee motif also progresses, only this time Lily is the bee in the epigram, leaving for a new life. Her tear over the family secrets parallels the title of the novel, and the tear falls into the jar that the bees have fled. When the idea to leave enters her head, she hears a voice saying her name and reminding her that her own jar is open.