The Secret Life of Bees
Chapters 6 and 7
When Lily wakes, she discovers a very tall black man named Neil hanging around at the Boatwright house. He is June’s sweetheart. June refuses to marry him, although he continues to ask for her hand. Lily wonders why none of the three sisters is married. Later that day, the Daughters of Mary—August’s spiritual community—arrive for services. The Daughters are a group of six women (and one man) who wear elaborate hats. The service, which focuses on the black Mary statue, involves much singing and dancing and praying aloud. In the middle, August begins to tell the story of the black Mary statue, referring to it as “Our Lady of Chains.” The story describes how the statute was found in a river, then brought into a community of black slaves. The slaves began to worship it, until their owner took it. The owner, intending to keep it away from the slaves, chained the statue up, but it miraculously, and continually, escaped. The statue offered the slave group spiritual unity and power and began to be passed down through generations. After the story has been told, the Daughters of Mary take turns touching the statue’s painted heart while singing and dancing together. When Lily’s turn comes, however, she feels overwhelmed and blacks out. Everybody blames the fainting spell on the heat. Later that night, while watching television, they see a report on an impending lunar rocket landing.
Lily has relaxed somewhat into the Boatwright routine but still feels nervous whenever she hears the wail of a police siren. Lily recounts meeting Zach for the first time, after she and Rosaleen had have been at the Boatwright house for eight days. An African American high school junior, Zach makes Lily feel things she had never felt before, including sexual attraction. They begin to flirt and become friends while working together in the honey house. Zach tells Lily that he wants to be a lawyer, and Lily admits to him that she wants to be an English teacher and writer. Lily begins to call Zach an “ass-busting lawyer.” Later, Rosaleen confronts Lily and asks her what she thinks she is doing at the Boatwright house. She accuses her of living in a fantasy. Lily wonders how long she can stay in this imaginary world but also longs to tell August the truth. The next day, Lily and Zach are sent six miles out to get the last batch of honey to harvest. The day is very hot and Lily gets overly emotional: laughing hysterically, then crying uncontrollably. Lily realizes she has developed romantic feelings for Zach, and she suspects he feels the same for her. That day, Lily also learns about the town’s most prized writer, Willifred Marchant.
Back at the honey house, Lily comes upon Rosaleen moving out. Later, Rosaleen tells Lily that she is going to be moving into the main house to share a room with May. She tells Lily that Rosaleen’s presence will make May feel safer. Lily understands but feels jealous and abandoned. Walking Rosaleen upstairs to her new room, Lily crosses August reading a book called Jane Eyre. The book, August tells her, is about a girl whose mother died when she was very young. Hearing this makes Lily panic—she assumes August knows everything and longs even more to tell her the truth. Meanwhile, Neil and June continue to fight, and the tension between June and Lily continues to grow. The next day, Zach brings Lily a notebook for her to use to work on her stories. He explains that society will never allow them to be together. Lily begins writing immediately.
These chapters emphasize the importance of having spirituality in one’s life, regardless of whether that spirituality comes from organized religion, from one’s past, or from one’s own imagination. The Daughters of Mary are not a conventional religious community. A minister or priest does not administer their services, nor is their religion conventionally Catholic or Protestant. Instead, the Daughters function as a social group, a gathering of close friends, a support group, and a spiritual club. Together, they celebrate a feminine spiritual power and honor their history as decedents of slaves. This religious community contrasts with the one in which Lily was raised in Sylvan, in which their congregation, led by Brother Gerald, was taught to dislike Catholics. In chapter 1, Brother Gerald refuses to lend Rosaleen and Lily a fan, even though the day is broiling and the two are walking a long distance. Even though it takes some of the Daughters, especially June, a while to accept Lily because of her skin color, they welcome the young girl to their prayer sessions and celebrations. When she faints, the Daughters rush to Lily’s aid, thinking only about helping her recover. Similarly, dancing, passion, and joy mark the Daughters’ prayer session, rather than the staid self-possession required by some church services. Nevertheless, the Daughters practice some traditions taken from organized religion: they pray to and caress a statue, they sing familiar hymns and spirituals, and they have stories about the statue, which they repeat at key moments. The Daughters celebrate and pray in ways that feel natural and appropriate to them, without any intervention from outsiders.
Lily’s interactions with Zach give her a dual awakening: she awakens to sexual desire as well as to her mental processes. Lily finds Zach physically attractive almost immediately, much to her surprise. His dimple, his handsome face, and his charm all combine to make Lily want to be around him. But according to Lily’s social experiences, white girls could not be attracted to black men, regardless of the context. Lily had also assumed that black faces were simply less attractive than white faces. But Lily’s sexual awakening is coupled with a burgeoning awareness of the realities of racism. Despite the fact that Lily has managed to overcome at least some of her innate prejudice toward African Americans, her attraction to Zach forces Lily to realize that the world, particularly the South of the 1950s, might not be ready to accept them as boyfriend and girlfriend. This realization causes her to become overwhelmed by her feelings for Zach, which leads to the emotional hysterics she experiences in the truck.
Kidd creates an explicit parallel between The Secret Life of Bees and an earlier work of literature when she presents August reading Jane Eyre. As with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in an earlier chapter, here Kidd compares the protagonist of her novel, Lily, to the protagonist of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. Kidd uses the two other novels to establish the genres of her own novel: Twain’s novel is a classic tale of escape; Brontë’s novel is a classic coming-of-age story. Like Lily, Jane Eyre is a poor, motherless, young girl who loves to read and who struggles to overcome difficult circumstances. Both novels are bildungsromans, and both depict their narrators’ experiences and growing self-awareness. Both novels also feature secrets and interracial relationships: Jane’s employer, Rochester, has locked away his first wife, a half-black, half-white woman who has gone somewhat mad. Rochester hides his marriage from Jane, much as Lily hides her origins from August. In both novels, society seems to have abandoned the two young women and frowns upon the relationships they form. But the two protagonists gain strength from this disdain, ultimately creating lives in which to flourish.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!