The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees Summary and Analysis of Chapters 3 and 4

Waking up in the woods that morning, Lily considers this day to be the first day of her new life. She watches Rosaleen sleep and tries to determine why her mother would have a picture of black Mary. When Rosaleen wakes up, she complains of the pain she suffered during her beating the night before. As they walk toward Tiburon, they discuss the next steps in their plan. Lily decides that she needs a sign. Her plan is to take nine steps and look up. Her eyes land on a crop duster, which provides little assistance.

After walking in the sweltering heat, Rosaleen and Lily find a general store. Lily goes in, buys some food, and steals snuff for Rosaleen. Most importantly, Lily sees a picture matching her mother’s black Mary on jars of honey labeled “Black Madonna Honey.” When Lily asks about the picture, the storeowner explains that the owner of the honey company is a black woman, August Boatwright, who lives in the bright pink house. Lily tells Rosaleen, and Rosaleen worries that Lily is getting her hopes up.

On the way to finding August’s house, Lily buys a newspaper in order to see if she and Rosaleen are listed as wanted. Lily feels relief after finding no reference to their escape in the entire paper.

Upon reaching the pink house, Lily sees the swarms of bees and beekeeping equipment surrounding the house. Lily and Rosaleen stand nervously in front of the house. After Lily finally musters the courage to knock on the door, May and June Boatwright answer. Lily pretends that she is visiting in search of honey. May and June get August, who impresses Lily as “a mix of mighty and humble all in one.” Lily gets the impression from August that she already knows everything about her.

Lily now tells August that she and Rosaleen ran away from home and had nowhere to go. August offers that Rosaleen and Lily may stay at the Boatwright house until they find a place to live. June seems to protest the arrangement, but August ignores her. Lily asks why all of the Boatwright sisters are named after months. May explains that their mother loved the spring and summer—and there is a fourth Boatwright sister, April, who died when they were young. May’s response to this discussion is to leave the room, singing “Oh Susannah.”

Lily tells the Boatwrights that both of her parents have died and that she was left without any family. She says that Rosaleen was the family housekeeper and that the two of them are on their way to Virginia to stay with Lily’s aunt. August replies that she is also from Virginia, and she discusses the terms of Lily’s and Rosaleen’s stay. Rosaleen will help May in the house, and Lily will assist with the beekeeping. Lily is sure that August can see right through her lies.

August sets up the honey house so that Lily and Rosaleen can sleep inside. August tells Lily that she can start work the next morning and shows her the beekeeping equipment. Lily begins to note her own whiteness and her own prejudices. She instructs Rosaleen not to mention the black Mary picture. Rosaleen reassures her that she can do whatever she chooses with her own secret.

Lily learns that August’s grandfather left her the land that she uses to keep the bees. She also discovers what is later revealed as May’s “wailing wall,” a stone wall with small notes stuck inside it. Lily thinks that she wants nothing to change. She would be content for life always to remain like this.


Lily is depicted as a very thoughtful and introspective girl throughout the novel, and in this section her depth of thought is shown through her creation and interpretation of metaphors in the world around her. For example, when Lily takes nine steps and looks up for a sign, she is confused about which part of the scene above her represents her. She could either be the rescued plants, the murdered bugs, or the airplane.

Note that Kidd uses alliteration frequently, most often to set scenes. For example, when describing the setting in Tiburon, she explains that “perspiration puddles” and “collarbones came together.” Sweat “dripped down.” Using such hard consonants in succession adds to the feeling of heaviness and harshness of the environment surrounding Rosaleen and Lily.

At the Boatwright house, Lily begins to learn that August too sees a symbol in bees; beekeeping and bee society represent human life and human society. The first example of this metaphor occurs when August introduces Lily to the spinner, which separates the good and bad parts of the honey. August states that she wishes the spinner could be used on people, separating the good from the bad.

Rosaleen instantly changes when she reaches the Boatwrights’. The past few days for Rosaleen have been filled with horror and pain, and Lily commented that her face had lost its shine. However, when she first crosses the yard to the honey house, walking under the rain, Lily begins to see Rosaleen’s old liveliness come back to her. Rosaleen is now in an environment primarily of black females, quite different from the one where she was beaten up by white men on her way to exercise her civil rights.

Lily begins to question her own notions about race after she meets the Boatwright sisters. She becomes very aware of her whiteness when she is surrounded by black women. She also understands now that she has held prejudices concerning the level of intelligence of a black person versus that of a white person. In particular, Lily can sense that August can see through her lies and that August knows much more than she is revealing. Such moments of understanding allow Lily to recognize her prejudice, and later she will be able to cast it aside.

Lily has something powerfully in common with the sisters; they all have lost their mothers. The death of family members does not seem to weigh heavily on the daily lives of the sisters, except for May, who maintains a “wailing wall.” Lily and her father, however, have never recovered from the accidental death of Lily’s mother. Lily is likely to learn some things about coping with loss from her time with the Boatwrights.