The Secret Life of Bees Summary and Analysis
Chapters 7 and 8
On Monday morning, Lily remembers that today is Zachary Taylor’s first day back at work. Zach assists August with the beekeeping, but he has been absent so far during Lily’s stay at the Boatwrights’. Lily is unhappy about the prospect of sharing August further. Lily has heard from August that Zach is a straight-A student and a football player. His father left him when he was small, and his mother is a lunch-lady in a school. When Zach arrives, he is surprised that Lily is white, and Lily is surprised that she finds Zach to be handsome. After speaking to Zach for a few minutes, Lily realizes that they will become friends.
They work together in the honey house with August. Lily loves her days, but she hates having to eat dinner with June. Their mutual resentment causes them to ignore each other for most of the meal. After dinner one night, August says that Lily may touch Mary’s heart, but Lily refuses because of June’s presence. Lily’s favorite meal is lunch, which she shares with Zach under the shade of the trees. Lily and Zach confess to each other that they both are unsure about their futures, Lily because she is an orphan, and Zach because he is black. Zach tells Lily that he wants to be a lawyer, and Lily says she has never heard of a black lawyer. Zach tells Lily, “You gotta imagine what’s never been.”
Rosaleen asks Lily about her long-term intentions with the Boatwrights, considering that they have been living with the Boatwrights for two weeks. June has also begun to call attention to the length of their stay. August reassures them that no one wants them to leave until they are ready to do so. August also tells Lily that Lily can confide in her. Despite her desire to come clean with August, Lily keeps her secret and cries privately.
Neil spends evenings at the house, and Lily eavesdrops. One day, June tells Neil that she cannot marry him. Neil replies that he cannot wait forever, and he leaves.
Lily and Zach are going to spend one morning harvesting honey at a farmhouse in the country. Lily dreams of being physically close with Zach, though her fantasies are not particularly sexual. Zach tells Lily about Attorney Clayton Forrest, who has discussed his law practice with Zach. Lily has been fascinated by the fact that she has become attracted to Zach; earlier she did not think it was possible to be attracted to such a man. The two of them get out of the truck and start the harvesting. Zach puts honey on his finger for Lily to taste. Lily wants Zach to kiss her, and she knows he wants to, but they just continue harvesting the honey.
Zach teaches Lily about a famous Tiburon resident, Willifred Marchant. Willifred has won Pulitzer Prizes for his books about trees in South Carolina. Tiburon celebrates Willifred one day each year. Lily accuses Zach of not believing that she will be successful as a writer, and she begins to cry. Zach pulls her close to him to comfort her. Lily realizes that she is actually crying for Zach, but Zach assumes she is crying because of his supposed lack of confidence in her writing ability.
Rosaleen decides to move into May’s room because May gets scared during the night. Lily is annoyed with the decision, but Rosaleen reassures her that she will be beside Lily when she needs to face reality. In following Rosaleen into the pink house, Lily notices that August is reading Jane Eyre. When Lily asks what the book is about, August explains that it is about a girl who is lost and sad. Lily takes this as a sign that August knows who she is. The feeling eventually passes.
June and Neil begin to fight outside of the house, and Neil soon leaves while June threatens that if Neil leaves now, he should never come back. Neil gets in the car, and June responds by throwing tomatoes at him. May once again writes their names on a slip of paper, and she puts it into her wall.
Zach and Lily spend the rest of the day processing the honeycombs they harvested. Lily is amazed about how consumed she has felt by her love for Zach. She spends the night alone in the honey house for the first time and daydreams of Zach. She begins to explore her body, and she realizes her development into a woman. Her hunger for Zach is soon replaced, however, by a different sort of hunger for her mother.
Two days later, Zach gives Lily a notebook as a present. He encourages her to start writing in it. Lily realizes that Zach is the best friend she will ever have. Lily hugs him, and Zach confesses that he likes her more than any girl he has ever met—but that he cannot pursue his feelings because of the racial divide between them. Both Lily and Zach express how sorry they are about the situation.
August and Lily spend a day pasting labels onto honey jars. August explains that each of the Boatwright sisters has her own special month corresponding to her name. During their special months as children, the girls were allowed to stay up late and avoid their chores. Lily admires the labels, and she tells August that she had never considered a black Mary before. August explains that there are black Mary paintings all over Europe. Lily confesses her love for the picture, and August asks what else she loves. Lily discusses her love for Rosaleen, writing, the color blue, and Coca-Cola with peanuts in it. August tells Lily that she also loves the color blue and Coca-Cola with peanuts.
Lily asks how the Boatwrights gained possession of the Our Lady statue. August replies that it has always been in her family. She adds that Mary’s spirit is everywhere. As August retells her family history, it occurs to Lily that August misses her mother, too. Lily learns that while August’s mother did not keep bees, August’s grandmother did. Lily asks August about all of the details of her life. August studied at a black college in Maryland and then worked as a housekeeper. August confesses that she has decided against marrying, though she is not against marriage in general. She tells Lily that she has been in love, but she loves her freedom more.
While on bee patrol, Lily learns that May picked the bright pink color for the house. August explains that some things just do not matter that much, and the pink color lifted May’s spirits, so it was worth it even though the house looked funny. August also tells Lily that bees have a secret life that people cannot understand, and Lily likes the idea that they have a secret life like she does. During the harvest, the bees flood around Lily, and she loses herself in thought about her mother. Lily is soon shaken back to alertness by August, who announces that she and Lily must speak about Lily’s background.
May and Rosaleen make a celebratory lunch of pork chops and okra to commemorate the fact that May has not been out to her wall in five days. Zach tells the group that a rumor is spreading through town that movie star Jack Palance will be visiting the town and plans to take a black woman to the movies with him. The town is buzzing about staging protests outside of the theater. Lily realizes how much importance people put on skin color, and she considers that the world would be better off if skin color differences did not exist.
Zach leaves lunch to go to Clayton Forrest’s office to drop off honey, and Lily volunteers to go with him—both to spend time with Zach and to see a real lawyer’s office. Lacy, Forrest’s secretary, seems confused to hear that Lily is staying in the Boatwrights’ house. Lily introduces herself to Clayton with the false story she has been using all along. Clayton and Zach leave the room, and Lily decides to make a collect call to T. Ray, hoping that he will feel remorseful about the way he treated her. T. Ray’s reaction to hearing Lily’s voice, however, is one of anger and verbal abuse. Lily decides to ask T. Ray if he knows her favorite color. T. Ray responds instead with a threat to “tear your behind to pieces.” Lily lowers the phone and forces herself not to cry. Zach returns with a book of cases. Clayton begins asking more about Lily’s background, but she uses female trouble as an excuse to leave the office.
That night, Lily writes a letter to T. Ray explaining her disdain for him. She writes an acrostic about how much of a horrible father he is. She then tears up the letter. She goes into the pink house to use the bathroom and then decides to pray to Mary. She asks to know what to do and for help so that Rosaleen can escape her criminal charges. She touches Mary’s heart and proclaims that Mary was her mother.
As Lily grows in fondness for Zach, and her concept of the divisions between races is more seriously questioned. She finds him attractive, and she does not know what to do about her feelings. The reader can see Lily being characterized more as a young woman than as a child in this relationship. Lily begins to flirt, and she becomes fascinated with Zach’s tiny details. For his part, Zach understands race relations in his town well enough to know that he is better off not trying to start a relationship with a young white woman.
August uses stories to symbolize what is taking place in Lily’s life. Prior to this section, August told the story of Beatrix, the runaway nun. In Chapter Seven, August is reading Jane Eyre. She tells Lily that she has just begun reading, but at the moment the girl is sad and lost, obviously mirroring Lily’s feelings. Lily feels as though August is sending her a message that she knows Lily’s past. Lily has gotten this feeling a few times before, but again she allows the feeling to pass. August has been waiting patiently for Lily to tell the truth.
June’s character is developed more with the introduction of her relationship with Neil. Typically the least vibrant of the Boatwright sisters, June finally allows her emotions to pour out when she throws tomatoes at Neil’s car. Her caution about marriage is based on a prior disappointment, but the reader is forced to wonder if June will ever allow herself to get over the past and allow herself to be happy. Her coping mechanism has made her cut herself off from the chance of a marriage because of the chance of a second major rejection. This condition parallels Lily’s inability to hurdle her past obstacles (her dead mother and her cold, mean father) in order to reach happiness.
August tries to reach Lily again when she tells Lily that bees have a secret life. This reference, obviously invoking the book’s title, serves several purposes. First of all, the secret life of the bees symbolizes both Lily’s secret life and the secret life of her mother, Deborah. Notably, May has some kind of secret life that her sisters do their best to negotiate, allowing May to have her wall and the pink paint on the house. In addition, by mentioning the secret life of the bees, August again hints to Lily that she understands that Lily has a secret. Just as the bees are allowed to keep their secrets, August, suggests, August is giving Lily her support even if she wants to keep her secret for a little while longer. Eventually, though, it will be time to come clean.
The queen bee is considered by August to be “the mother of thousands.” Lily, on the search for a mother figure, seems to be drawn to potential mothers, including the queen bees. Lily feels a tremendous amount of love from the bees that she keeps. She ultimately finds a mother symbol in Mary. That this is a black Mary is no problem (remember that Lily has realized that everyone’s urine is the same color—a strange variation on the common theme that everyone’s blood is the same color—so it is notable that Lily turns to this Mary after entering the house to go to the bathroom). Lily accepts Mary as a mother as well as, in the Catholic tradition, the spiritual mother of millions of Christians. Both the queen bee and Mary symbolize the mother that Lily has never really known.
It is interesting that Lily chooses to write T. Ray a letter after their failed phone conversation. Being at the lawyer’s office probably gives her a stronger sense that she is again on a path to success, so this is a good time for her to start resolving the issues that have weighed her down in the past. Unfortunately, T. Ray has not changed, but Lily has. She feels comfortable enough with her power of written expression to write down how she feels about him. When she rips up the letter, she is not signaling dissatisfaction with her expressive ability so much as realizing that the letter was her way of coping with the bad conversation—writing the letter for her own sake.
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- Sue Monk Kidd: Biography
- The Secret Life of Bees Summary
- About The Secret Life of Bees
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1 and 2
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3 and 4
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5 and 6
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 and 8
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9 and 10
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11 and 12
- Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13 and 14
- Honey as a Healer
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