The Secret Life of Bees

what does lily say when august tells her may is special

may goes to the wailing wall

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Throughout Lily’s discussion with August about Deborah, Deborah’s character is developed posthumously. Prior to this point, the reader’s understanding of Deborah has been limited to her relationship with Lily. Finally, during this conversation, August explains Deborah’s personality as a child and a young woman. August fills in the missing pieces that Lily needs. It is not quite a flashback, because this is a conversation about the past, not a narrative shift to a different time, but the majority of the conversation seems to focus on the events of the past.

This conversation demonstrates to Lily the burden of knowledge. Here readers might recall the story of Oedipus, who killed his own father and spends the majority of [Oedipus Rex] in a struggle for knowledge about the truth of his past, only to discover the horrible truth and then have to live with it. Though Lily now knows what happened to her mother, she is saddened by the truth that she at first was unwanted and that her mother subsequently left her to go to Tiburon. (Despite the serious mood of this moment, Kidd manages to add humor to the scene when Lily confesses her aspiration to be an amnesiac, preferring to forget the truth.)

August has been burdened with this knowledge from the beginning, but the burden has been comparatively light because August was not herself the subject of Deborah’s actions. Instead, August has been the prudent and patient one, first taking in Deborah and then taking in Deborah’s daughter ten years later. Still, we must wonder how the new revelations from Lily feel for August, who is learning for the first time that Lily killed her own mother and that Rosaleen has been a fugitive from the law. These revelations probably seem less important to August than the news that June is finally going to get married and less important to August than the death of their other sister, May.