T. Ray (Terrence Ray) is Lily's father, though Lily cannot bring herself to call him "daddy." He is a poor excuse for a father, abusive and unloving. He has turned bitter after the death of his wife, Deborah, and he often takes out his anger on Lily. T. Ray's upbringing is a mystery in the novel, but he owns a peach farm. He employs Rosaleen to assist in taking care of the Owens household. Lily's job is to sell peaches for him at a roadside stand, though the customers are few and far between. August tells Lily of a time when Lily's mother gushed about how wonderful T. Ray was. Lily ultimately realizes that T. Ray must have had a great love for her mother, and that when she left, he developed ill will. At the end of the novel, he realizes that keeping Lily in his house would just remind him of Deborah, so he leaves her with the Boatwrights.
Rosaleen is the Owens' black housekeeper. Her age is unknown, but she is from another city in South Carolina. She is a spunky woman who deeply cares for Lily. She does not take abuse from anyone, and she ends up getting arrested as a result of her rebellious nature. Lily breaks her out of jail, and the two of them travel together to Tiburon, where they meet the Boatwrights. Rosaleen becomes fast friends with May Boatwright, and she easily joins the routine of the household. Yet, she encourages Lily to come clean with August, even if it means they will have to abandon their new life in Tiburon. Throughout the novel, Rosaleen acts as a motherly figure toward Lily. She provides thoughtful advice or a well-timed pat on the knee. Rosaleen promises to stay by Lily's side no matter what she encounters.
Lily, the novel's narrator, is also the story's protagonist. Lily begins the novel at age fourteen, a sad girl who has experienced far more than most have at her age. She lives in Sylvan, South Carolina, with her father, T. Ray, and her housekeeper, Rosaleen. Lily's mother died when she was just four years old, and Lily has a confusing memory about the day that she died. As far as Lily remembers, she shot her mother by accident, which is never denied throughout the novel. She is ridden by guilt, loss, and confusion about her mother. T. Ray tells Lily that her mother, Deborah, actually left them. Lily disagrees and runs away. She and Rosaleen escape to Tiburon, South Carolina, because Lily found this city scratched into her mother's picture of a black Mary. Using the black Mary picture, Lily and Rosaleen end up at the Boatwrights' house, the owners of the Black Madonna Honey company. Lily lies about her background in order not to alarm the Boatwrights. The Boatwright sisters welcome Lily and Rosaleen to stay with them, provided that Lily helps with the honey processes. Lily loves her life in Tiburon, keeping bees, and keeping her life a secret. While living with the Boatwrights, she meets a black boy named Zach, with whom she falls in love. Zach is the first black boy Lily has been attracted to, and eventually he kisses her. Lily realizes that she must come clean to August Boatwright about her background, so she explains everything about her past. In addition, August explains that Lily's mother had stayed at the Boatwright house long ago as well. Lily learns the whole story of her mother's past, and she is filled with anger, pity, and grief. She eventually comes to terms with her feelings. Finally, T. Ray comes to the Boatwrights' house to take Lily back to Sylvan. Lily persuades him to let her stay with the Boatwrights, with whom she realizes she has many mothers.
Avery Gaston is a police officer nicknamed "Shoe." He arrests Rosaleen for pouring snuff spit on three white men's shoes. He allows the white men to beat Rosaleen both outside and inside the jail.
Mrs. Henry, Lily's teacher, helps Lily realize her potential to do more than go to beauty school. She encourages Lily to pursue her interest in writing in order to begin a career in writing or in academia.
Brother Gerald is the Owens' family minister. He finds Lily and Rosaleen resting in his church when they are on their way to town. He is clearly uncomfortable by the idea of a black woman accompanying a young white girl.
Snout is the Owens' family dog.
Deborah Owens, formerly Deborah Fontanel, is Lily's mother. She grew up in Richmond, Virginia, where August Boatwright worked as her housekeeper. As an adult, Deborah moved to Sylvan, following a friend from high school. She dated T. Ray and only agreed to marry him after she discovered she was pregnant with Lily. After a brief term of happiness following Lily's birth, Deborah's life turned dark. She left T. Ray and Lily to live with the Boatwrights. After shaking her depression, Deborah went back to Sylvan to take Lily. During this foray, she and T. Ray got into a fight, which resulted in four-year-old Lily picking up a gun and accidentally shooting Deborah, killing her.
The owner of the Black Madonna Honey company, August is a black woman who grew up in Virginia. She studied at a black college and became the housekeeper for the Fontanel family. She went on to become a teacher, but when her grandmother left her the beekeeping yard, she moved to Tiburon to manage the honey company. August has a true love for bees, for life, and for love. She offers her help and advice whenever she can, and she becomes a stand-in mother for Lily. She is a spiritual woman with some eclectic hobbies and customs.
May, August's and June's sister, also grew up with a twin sister named April. When the two of them were small, May would duplicate April's symptoms. If April got a fat lip, May's lip would swell as well. April suffered great depression, and when she turned fifteen, she killed herself. As she grew older, May's empathy grew to encompass the struggles and pain of the world at large. May found great sadness in the pain of others. When an unpleasant or sad topic would be brought up in a room, she would hum, "Oh Susannah" and leave. She built a wailing wall as a catharsis for her pain, but she remained unable to bear the weight of the world. She ultimately took her own life as well.
June is August's and May's sister, the quietest of the three. June worked as a teacher for a while and then worked in a morgue. She then began playing the cello to comfort people as they die. At the beginning of Lily's stay at the Boatwright house, June resented her because she had resented Deborah. June did not like August working in a white household. Yet, June came to love Lily. June also is in love with Neil but refuses to accept his marriage proposal for most of the novel. She was left at the altar by her first fiancee and therefore is nervous about entering into a marriage agreement again. Yet, eventually, after May's death, she is convinced to marry Neil.
April was May's twin sister. She suffered severe depression and at age fifteen committed suicide, which changed May forever.
June's boyfriend and eventual husband, Neil attends most of the Boatwright family functions. He is persistent in asking June to marry him, but she continually rejects him. Finally, following May's death, June accepts Neil's proposal and marries him.
Daughters of Mary
Queenie, Violet, Lunelle, Mabelee, Cressie, and the Boatwrights are a group of women who worship Our Lady of Chains (Mary). The women are close friends, and they share in each other's joy and pain. They eventually welcome Lily with open arms and include her as one of them.
Sugar-Girl's husband, Otis is considered to be the one male "daughter of Mary." He attends all of the Daughters' events.
Zach is a black boy who works on the honey farm assisting August with beekeeping. He is smart and is a talented football player. He has aspirations to become a lawyer. After he meets Lily, the two of them become fast friends and subsequently fall in love. After Zach is jailed for a crime he did not commit, he becomes angry and becomes concerned with civil rights. He devotes his life to changing the world. Among his first steps in that direction is his decision to attend a white high school.
Clayton is a white Tiburon attorney who teaches Zach about law. He works to defend Zach when he is jailed, and he helps Rosaleen and Lily avoid criminal charges in Sylvan. He is the father of a girl named Becca, who is friends with Zach.
Jackson is a friend of Zach's. He throws a soda bottle at a white man, landing himself, Zachary Taylor, and two other boys in jail. Jackson refuses to confess in order to free the others.
Edie Hazelwurst is the police officer who questions the Boatwright family and Lily following May's death. He encourages Lily not to lower herself by living with a black family.
Willifred Merchant is a writer from Tiburon who has been recognized with Pulitzer Prizes for her books about the deciduous trees of South Carolina. The city of Tiburon devotes a day to her each year.
Jack is a celebrity rumored to be visiting Tiburon. He supposedly planned to bring a black woman with him to the movies, causing much uproar and protest in the city.
Clayton Forrest's secretary, Miss Lacy gives information to T. Ray about where to find Lily.
Judge Monroe is the Tiburon judge. He is out of town when Zach is jailed, which delays Zach's release.
Melvin was June's first fiance. He left her at the altar.
Mr. Grady is the owner of the general store. He directs Lily to the Boatwright house.
Sarah Fontanel is Deborah's mother, Lily's grandmother, and August Boatwright's former boss.
The Secret Life of Bees Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Secret Life of Bees is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Bees symbolize Lily's mother in a number of instances throughout the novel. In Sylvan, Lily feels her mother's presence when swarms of bees enter her room. Her mother's name, Deborah, literally translates as "bee." She follows the path of her...
Literature essays on The Secret Life of Bees are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.