The Secret Life of Bees
August wakes Lily up. It is extremely hot, and they need to water the bees to keep them cool. Lily gets stung while replacing a lid on a hive box. August tells her she could not be a true beekeeper without getting stung. Lily feels proud of the fact that, in August’s eyes, she has become a true beekeeper. “A writer, an English teacher, and a beekeeper,” she thinks. When they get back to the house, they find Rosaleen and May having a water fight with the sprinkler outside. They are laughing and giggling like children. May taunts August and Lily, and eventually they join in the games. Later, June comes down angrily and tries to pry the sprinkler from Lily. But their tussle of frustration becomes one of love, and they begin to laugh together. Afterward, Lily goes to take a nap to escape the heat but is haunted by thoughts of her mother. Going into the pink house, she finds May on the ground with marshmallows and graham crackers, a technique her mother also used for getting rid of roaches.
This scene strikes Lily. She becomes convinced that it means her mother once lived in the Boatwright house. She asks May if she ever knew anybody named Deborah Fontanel. May says she has. Overwhelmed by the news, Lily goes to the honey house to be alone. She falls asleep and dreams about her mother. First, her mother is searching for her, then her mother has roach legs and frightens Lily. For the next few days, Lily walks around in a stupor. She spends a great deal of time imagining her mother around the house. She longs to confront August with this new information, but she is also afraid to learn the full truth of her mother’s time at the house. Late that Friday, Lily comes to the conclusion that she is ready to talk to August—that whatever the truth is, it would be best to just learn it and be done. But when Lily goes to speak to August, she learns August is busy.
Instead, Lily rides into town with Zach to buy a new radiator. At the store, a crowd of white men waits in front of the movie theater for the movie star and his black girlfriend. Zach’s friends are also there. They are three black teenagers like Zach. After taunting the white men, one boy throws a bottle at them. He hits a man in the nose. Zach and his friends will not reveal which boy threw the bottle and they are all taken to jail. Lily, left alone in the truck, walks home. There, Clayton Forrest is with August. He has been to the jail and is in charge of Zach’s case. They all decide to not tell May about the incident while Clayton works to get Zach out of jail. Later, Lily goes with August to visit Zach in jail. She does not know how to console him but tells him she will write his story down. At home, Zach’s mother calls and tells May what happened, but she does not appear upset. Instead, she heads out to the wailing wall alone, much more collected than the sisters expected she would be at hearing the news.
The bee sting Lily receives signifies her complete and utter submergence into the Boatwright world. At this point in the novel, Lily is entirely incorporated into the community in Tiburon. She and Zach are close friends; August trusts her and she trusts August; and Lily has a role, a place, and a job. When Lily gets stung by the bees while doing this job, it might seem, at first, to symbolize that there is something wrong with her position in this world or that Lily does not really belong. However, August quickly explains that the stinging is merely the last stage in Lily’s complete acculturation to the beekeeping lifestyle. Earlier in the novel, when August is teaching Lily about beekeeping safety, she tells Lily that she should always protect herself by wearing long sleeves, even though no right-minded bee wants to sting. Through this advice, August metaphorically explains that bad things sometimes do happen, even in the safest, most positive communities and even when people take precautions to protect themselves. In this way, Lily’s bee sting both explains Zach’s arrest and foreshadows the negative events that are soon to befall the Boatwright family.
When Lily discovers May tempting the roaches, Lily realizes that her long-standing suspicious were correct: her mother once spent time in the Boatwright house. Like May, Kidd carefully lays out many marshmallow and graham cracker–like clues so that readers perhaps recognize the links between Lily’s mother and the sisters. May, in her simple innocence, is unaware of Lily’s personal interest in Deborah Fontanel, and yet she is the one who gives Lily the confidence to finally ask about her mother. May accepts Lily’s questions and does not wonder why or how Lily knows about Deborah. Had Lily spoken to August, no doubt August would have immediately recognized the connections between Lily and Deborah or, at the very least, wondered how the young girl knew about Deborah. Interestingly, Lily only knows about Deborah’s roach trick from hearing T. Ray’s stories. In this way, Kidd establishes a link between T. Ray and the Boatwrights via Deborah.
Zach’s experiences in this chapter are a fictionalized version of the political and social realities of the American South in 1964, another way in which Kidd connects history and literature. Although readers know Zach as a good, nonviolent person with lofty goals, the white police only see him as a black boy. Like Rosaleen, Zach is immediately taken to prison, with no attempts on the part of the police to uncover the truth. However, his treatment in jail is much different than Rosaleen’s, because Zach has the support of a white lawyer. We never learn what happened to the boy who actually threw the bottle. His fate was probably very serious; the criminal justice system of that era was not lenient toward African Americans in general and was particularly harsh toward those suspected of committing crimes against whites. This whole incident awakens Lily to the realities of her semiromantic involvement with Zach. When she visits him in prison, she cannot outwardly show signs of her feelings for Zach for fear of incurring violence against him. This lack of empowerment clashes with the general growth Lily has experienced throughout the book. Even as she develops as a woman, finds her own voice, and learns to appreciate the support of those around her, she is still victim to the racist whims of the land in which she is living. At the time, society would never have allowed a black man to become romantically involved with a white woman. Lily realizes that, despite what she feels personally, she remains a member of a greater, flawed society. Realizing this inspires her to take her writing more seriously, and she vows to write Zach’s story.
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