Summary and Analysis Chapter 9



The bee epigram for this chapter explains that communication is key. In the chapter, Lily makes an amazing discovery by being very direct with May.

It is July 28 and the temperature is going up to 103 degrees. Lily wakes August to water the bees. On the way to the hives, August turns on the radio and hears news of the moon landing, several missing Civil Rights workers, and the escalation of the Vietnam War. They reach the hives and, while watering them to cool them down, Lily is stung. August tells her she is now a true beekeeper, and Lily is proud of herself. They return to the house, and all three sisters plus Lily and Rosaleen have a water-sprinkler fight. Even June joins in and by the time it's over, June hugs Lily.

The heat goes to 104 degrees, and everyone takes to her bed. This gives Lily time to think. She is rapidly reaching a point where she has to tell August about her past; she is simply working too hard to keep it all in. Lily still yearns for her mother, but maturity has softened the blow. She wants to talk about God and ask why He let the world get away from His original idea of paradise.

Lily goes to the kitchen, where she makes an unsettling discovery. May is sitting on the floor with graham crackers and marshmallows, breaking off pieces of each and putting them on the floor so that roaches will follow them out of the house. Suddenly, Lily has another light-headed epiphany, because T. Ray told her Deborah did that same thing. Lily has to sit down because she is so shocked by this scene. She asks May point blank if she knew a Deborah Fontanel. May says yes, that Deborah had lived in the honey house. Before Lily can faint, May starts singing "Oh! Susanna" and heads to the wall. Something about the memory of Lily's mother has upset her.

The honey house has a strong effect on Lily. She goes there and meditates on her mom being in that very room. She falls asleep and dreams that her mother walks into the honey house, but she has roach legs. Lily wakes up and is so disgusted she almost vomits. The next few days, Lily is restless; she walks through the rooms picturing her mother there. She wants to ask August about her mother, but she's afraid that she will ruin her new life. Finally, Lily decides her life is in suspension until she talks to August once and for all. She takes a deep breath, assembles her mother's things, and sets out to confront August. She imagines that she will show August her mother's picture and hear stories about her mother from August.

Lily heads to the house, but Zach informs her August is with Sugar-Girl. Zach is going to town and invites her along. After they drive to town and park the truck, Lily notices that people are out on the street and the atmosphere is tense. Then she remembers: It's Friday, the day Jack Palance is supposed to arrive. A group of African-American teenage boys approaches the truck, and one makes a comment. A white man nearby hears and confronts the boy. The boy — named Jackson — throws an RC Cola bottle at the man's head. It hits his nose, which starts bleeding. A policeman is called, and Zach is rounded up with the other teenagers. Lily doesn't know what to do so she gets out of the truck and walks home.

Lily tells August what occurred in town and since Mr. Forrest is already there, they get a plan together. Bail won't happen, which means Zach will have to stay in jail until the judge comes. They keep the news from May so as not to upset her; meanwhile, August and Lily go to the jail to see Zach. The policeman looks suspiciously at Lily, but gives the two women five minutes with Zach. August comforts Zach, but Lily doesn't get to say much. To reassure her, Zach asks her about her writing. A few evenings later, the phone rings and May answers it. She hears about Zach and goes into a trance, making it difficult for him to communicate with her. She becomes horribly quiet, and then says she is going to the wall. When August tries to stop her and asks to go with her, May says she just wants to be alone and leaves.


The exquisite tension within Lily about staying at the Boatright house and finding out more about her mother is the primary conflict building up and up before the end of the novel.

When August and Lily return from tending the bees, the sprinkler fight is a reminder that this is a community of women who care deeply about each other. Even June lets down her suspicions about Lily and joins in the fun. This is the happiness and love that Lily wants to be a part of — and she is. Anything that might break up this community causes anxiety for Lily.

That pressure is increased when Lily walks into the kitchen and sees May trying to get rid of the roaches without killing them. She knows little about her mother, and for the first time, she confronts someone about whether her mother has been here. Her curiosity, however, also leads to feelings of dread, because Lily fears anything that will throw her out of her community and talking about her mother may be that thing. But now she must ask questions and find out more. Her fears have been overcome by her yearning for her mother. But she has to choose the right time to ask August about her mother.

That conflict is overshadowed, however, by Zach's serious situation after the episode in town. Lily is still learning about racial attitudes and conflicts, and prior to this day, she didn't understand Zach's anger and frustration, his desire to become a lawyer, his need to achieve. Now she sees firsthand what happens when you are a black teenager anywhere near an "incident." When Zach is hauled in with the other boys, Lily isn't sure what to do. But visiting the jail is a grim reminder of what happened earlier to Rosaleen. She can feel the palpable danger for Zach. If she didn't understand Zach's fear about being her boyfriend, she does now. She has finally internalized the understanding of prejudice that T. Ray and Rosaleen know by heart. Lily is learning that the stories on television about riots and murders happen to real people. And she is afraid for Zach.

The tense tone of this chapter escalates as May leaves to go alone to the wall. Clearly, something bad is going to happen. Over and over, May has shown that she can't deal with sad events that are part of reality. Her dreamlike state and insistence that she leave alone are foreshadowing of a terrible event to come soon.