The Secret Life of Bees

Explain the purpose of the Boatwrights' rituals after May's death.

in chapter 11

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After Zach's arrest, Mary decides to partake in her usual ritual to relieve her pain: going out to her “wailing wall.” This time, May does not come back. The other women find her dead in the river, having killed herself.

Riddled with grief, the family sits with May’s body in the living room in order to prepare for the burial. The Daughters of Mary sit and make jokes about white funerals, and Lily finally feels that she has been accepted as one of them. On the day of May’s funeral, Lily recalls the hum of the bees surrounding them.

A few days after the funeral, the Boatwright house celebrates Mary’s Day, a two-day commemoration of the Feast of the Assumption. The women bake, decorate, and reenact the story of Our Lady in Chains. After the first night of the Mary Day celebration, Lily decides to come clean with August. She tells August all about her past and how she got to Tiburon. In turn, August tells Lily about her mother’s upbringing and tells Lily that Deborah left Lily in Sylvan to come to the Boatwright house. Lily is left with mixed emotions of both anger and pity for her mother.

Mary Day allows for a break in the grief following May’s death. The celebration adds significant symbolism to Lily’s life. Mary’s binding in chains parallels Lily’s consistent restraint due to her uncertainty about her mother. Lily is bound to wonder and be confused, to fail to know the truth. Mary will become unbound, and so too will Lily. That Mary escapes her chains foreshadows the fact that Lily will soon learn the truth behind her mother’s life and death.