The Secret Life of Bees
Chapters 2 and 3
Mr. Avery Gatson, the policeman, drives Lily and Rosaleen to jail while the three white men follow in their pickup truck. Lily is impressed by how resolute and strong Rosaleen seems. When they arrive at the jail, the three men are waiting. They demand that Rosaleen apologize. When she refuses, one hits her on the head with a flashlight. Mr. Gatson then takes the two women into jail. T. Ray soon comes to take Lily out, but they leave Rosaleen behind. While driving home, T. Ray tells Lily that one of Rosaleen’s three attackers—Franklin Posey—is the town’s worst racist and that he will kill Rosaleen even if she does apologize. At home, T. Ray scolds Lily harshly, but she stands up to him. She tells him that her mother will not let him harm her, but he laughs at the idea that her dead mother functions as her guardian angel. He tells Lily that Deborah had already abandoned Lily when she returned home and was killed. This comment hurts Lily deeply, but she does not believe T. Ray. She notices that the bee jar next to her bed is empty, and she realizes that she too needs to escape her own jar. She needs to run away.
On the road, Lily decides to head toward Tiburon, the town written on the back of her mother’s black Mary picture. Lily sets out to go to the jail. Halfway, Brother Gerald picks her up. Lily lies to him about Rosaleen’s actions. At the jail, Lily learns that Rosaleen has been taken to the hospital, and she leaves the jail to go there instead. In the black patient wing of the Sylvan Memorial Hospital, she discovers that the three men were allowed into the jail to beat Rosaleen further—which is why Rosaleen is in the hospital. Lily tricks the security guard with a phony phone call and slips out of the hospital with Rosaleen. They head to Highway 40 and begin to hitchhike. A black man driving a truck full of cantaloupe picks them up. He drives them within three miles of Tiburon and gives them each a cantaloupe for dinner. Under a full moon, they head into a forest that reminds Lily of a setting from a Brother’s Grimm fairy tale. There, Lily tells Rosaleen what T. Ray said about her mother. Lily then tells Rosaleen why they are heading to Tiburon and Rosaleen gets upset—accusing Lily of not taking Rosaleen into account when she ran off. They fight and split apart. Later, however, Lily comes across Rosaleen bathing in the river. Together, under the moonlight, they strip naked and cleanse themselves.
The next day, Lily awakes feeling as if she slept next to Thoreau’s Walden Pond. She feels as if today is the first day of her new life. As she contemplates the black Mary picture, she realizes that not only does she not know much about Mary, she has never met a Catholic. She soon wakes Rosaleen, who says she dreamed about Martin Luther King Jr., imagining that she painted her toenails with his spit. They begin to walk toward town—both anointed in their new lives. Lily, looking for a sign to offer her guidance, spots the Frogmore General Store and heads in to buy some food for her and Rosaleen. Inside, she tells the clerk that she has arrived in town to visit her grandma, orders two pork meals and two cokes, and steals some snuff for Rosaleen. She then notices a selection of Black Madonna Honey jars. On them is the picture of the black Mary picture she has from her mother. The clerk tells her that the maker of this honey, August Boatwright, lives on the other side of Tiburon. Convinced that she is somewhere her mother once was, Lily goes outside to tell Rosaleen about her discovery. They also buy a paper to see if their disappearance has made the news, and discover that it has not.
An undercurrent of religious spirituality runs through The Secret Life of Bees. But this type of spirituality does not resemble organized religions, such as Catholicism; rather, it combines elements of magic, strange coincidences, and gut feelings. Lily sometimes feel as if Deborah watches and protects her from beyond the grave, and she goes off to Tiburon, S.C., simply because those words were printed on the back of a picture once belonging to her mother. She even claims to hear a voice telling her to leave Sylvan and T. Ray. This decision signifies Lily’s impetuous nature, as well as her desire to be sheltered and to feel as if she belonged—all powerful religious drives. The picture belongs to a label for Black Madonna Honey. Obviously this name has religious echoes, but the experience itself has the feel of an eerie, spiritual coincidence. At this point, the book begins to resemble a fable, as if its actions were taking place in a parallel universe, which only dimly resembles the real universe. Once they escape Sylvan, Lily and Rosaleen seem to exist in this semimagical state, and Lily compares the area in which they spend the night to the setting of a fairy tale. Rosaleen even feels moved by the black Mary picture. Magic happens, these chapters imply, if we trust ourselves and follow our instincts or intuition.
Each scene of the novel offers Lily an opportunity to learn something, to deepen her understanding, or to overcome a difficulty, because the novel itself is a record of Lily’s process of growing up. In chapters 2 and 3, Lily witnesses the effects of racism and begins to see how small individual acts of rebellion might be used to eradicate institutionalized racism. During the scene with the racist white men, Lily wishes Rosaleen would apologize, and, to some degree, Lily gets angry at Rosaleen for even putting herself into that situation by heading to town to vote. As a child, Lily has trouble understanding the power of people to effect change. In her mind, racism is an impenetrable fortress that, while unfortunate, can nevertheless not be demolished. To Lily—and to many others—things are the way they are because that is the way they are, and nothing can change that. Rosaleen, however, understands that she must exercise her legal right to vote, no matter the costs to herself. The fact that Posey and his men stand in Rosaleen’s way gives her a chance to stand up for her rights. Never once does it enter her mind to apologize, because she believes the white men are wrong. Lily’s misunderstanding of Rosaleen’s actions speaks to her relative youth and inexperience and her inability—at this stage, at least—to really empathize with Rosaleen’s experience as a black woman in the South. By the end of the novel, Lily will learn a great deal more about racial difference and bias in the South.
These chapters emphasize the importance of reading, writing, storytelling, and using one’s imagination. In chapter 1, we learned that Lily loves to read and write, and longs to be a writer. In chapter 2, Kidd subtly alludes to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: like Twain’s book, Kidd’s features a young white kid running off into the woods with a black adult. Both pairs feel uncertainty during their journey, but an overwhelming sense of freedom makes them believe in themselves and each other. A river features prominently in both stories: Huck and Jim raft down the river, away from their horrible backgrounds, while Lily and Rosaleen bath naked in the river both to make up from their fight and to symbolically baptize themselves into their new life. Finally, in chapter 3, Lily compares herself to another hero of American letters: Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau’s book chronicles his experiences on Walden Pond and describes his theories of self-reliance and spiritual simplicity. Like Thoreau, Lily has set out in search of autonomy, from both T. Ray and from the larger racist society of the South. This comparison not only demonstrates Lily’s keen intelligence but also gives her strength to continue her journey away from Sylvan and into the unknown.
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