When a new shipment of Black Madonna labels for the honey jars arrives, August asks Lily to help her apply them. During their work, they begin to talk about the things they love. August explains the symbolism behind the black Mary and talks about how the statue entered her possession. In addition, they talk more generally about female strength, and August explains to Lily why she decided to never get married: she did not want to give up her autonomy. Afterward, they go to the hives and listen to the secret sounds bees make while inside their homes. Lily learns that the queen bee is the mother of thousands and that the bees fly out and cover her body. Lily stays calm while the bees dance on her skin. August tells Lily that they need to have a talk. Lily knows why, and she gets nervous. At home, May makes a special lunch because she has avoided the wailing wall for five straight days. At lunch, Zach reports on a rumor: a white movie star is coming to town and intends to see a movie with his black girlfriend. No one is sure whether to believe this rumor, but everyone agrees the rumor itself could cause some serious unrest in town.
After lunch, Zach goes to drop off honey at the office of Clayton Forrest, and Lily asks to go with him. Hesitating, August lets her. At the office, Zach introduces Lily to Mr. Forrest’s secretary, Ms. Lacy, who is surprised to learn Lily is staying at the home of a black person. When she leaves, Mr. Forrest introduces himself to Lily and calls her pretty. Startled, Lily almost forgets her made-up last name. Zach and Mr. Forrest go into Mr. Forrest’s office to look at some cases, leaving Lily alone. Lily begins to look around and finds a picture of Mr. Forrest with his daughter. In it, both look very happy. Lily begins to think about her father and decides to call him. Upon hearing his voice, she gets emotional. But T. Ray gets hostile, scolds her for running away, and demands to know where she is. Lily refuses, tries to apologies, and asks T. Ray if he knows her favorite color. He doesn’t answer her question but threatens to hurt her when he finds her. She hangs up.
Zach returns, looking proud and holding a large law book. He calls it the beginning of his law library. Mr. Forrest then begins to ask Lily personal questions, about her family and hometown. Lily, faking “female trouble,” tells Zach that she needs to go, and they say goodbye to Mr. Forrest. Back at the honey house, Lily writes T. Ray a letter she knows she could never send. In it, she tells T. Ray that she does not love him and describes how horrible he has been toward her. She also tells him that she does not believe that her mother left her. After writing it, she rips the letter up. That night, after coming into the main house to use the bathroom, Lily goes into the parlor, where the black Mary statue was sitting in the corner. Kneeling before it, she asks it for help, affectionately referring to it as her “mother.”
The Secret Life of Bees, although not overtly feminist, presents strong women characters living independently from men. Kidd carefully balances the ugly, evil men in the novel—such as T. Ray and Franklin Posey—with kind, good men—such as Neil, Clayton Forrest, and Zach. August becomes a role model for Lily, showing the young girl what women are capable of. In chapter 1, Lily expresses doubts about her ability to go anywhere in the world, particularly college, and she assumes that she will eventually go to beauty school. Here, August teaches Lily about making choices. Rather than fall into marriage or motherhood, August actively chose another life path. For Lily, the idea of women existing independently from men is novel and interesting. Even if ultimately this is not a lifestyle she would choose, it gives her an idea about the benefits of self-reliance and strength. Presenting her “life philosophy” to Lily reveals August to be not only warm and loving but also knowledgeable and well studied. The fact that Lily hopes to attend beauty school, but doubts even her ability to enroll, speaks to the low aspirations she thinks are appropriate for females. However, August has been working to shatter this idea and to replace it with a more positive one since they first met.
When the bees cover Lily, and she surrenders herself to their love, Lily experiences a religious epiphany. After talking to August about how the spirit of Mary exists in all things, “inside rocks and trees and even people,” Lily releases herself to the bees. While covered, Lily becomes connected to the bees, which she feels have a secret life much like her own. She is able to become “one” with them on a deep visceral level and to experience the feeling of loving them completely. In this state of surrender, she connects the bees at August’s farm to the bees that had arrived in her room in Sylvan, back at T. Ray’s house. For the first time in the novel, Lily suspects that a spiritual force—like God—had sent the bees to rescue her from T. Ray. Her realization of this spiritual power speaks to how the influence of the Boatwright house has changed the way she views the world and the forces at work inside the world. The connection she feels between herself and the bees is much like the connection she finds between herself and the women of August’s world. These connections empower her, giving her strength and confidence.
Lily’s newly developed strength and confidence begin to change the way she thinks about her father. Instead of merely demonizing T. Ray, she begins to think more analytically about their relationship, and she begins to long for a love that she feels he should, as her biological father, feel for her. While in the law office, Lily sees a picture of a loving father and daughter, so she calls T. Ray in the hopes that she will hear him longing for and loving her from afar. Instead, she discovers that he is still the same sad, angry man he has always been—only now, he is even angrier at Lily for inconveniencing his life. Hearing T. Ray’s voice returns Lily to the same place of anger and resentment that drove her to the Boatwright house in the first place. It also reminds her that she still needs to complete her journey of learning about her own mother before she can forgive, or even understand, her father. This realization leads her to finally seek out and touch the painted heart of the Our Lady of Chains statue. Through this touch, Lily hopes to gain the strength the complete the last leg of her journey.
Take a Study Break!