The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees Summary and Analysis of Chapters 11 and 12

August stops all beekeeping as she and June continue to mourn. Rosaleen cooks all of the meals. Lily is now ready to talk to August, but she forbears because of August’s grief. Lily occupies her time by writing in her notebook, and before long she fills up all of the pages. She walks in the woods and wonders about her mother. She considers where she and Rosaleen might go next. Often, Lily does not want to get out of bed at all.

June has begun taking long car rides with Neil. Zach visits on occasion, and seeing him causes Lily’s stomach to turn circles. Lily tells him that she considers him a friend, a boyfriend, a beekeeper, and a brother. She tells him what would happen if she were black, but Zach replies that there is no use in that kind of speculation. Instead they have to think about changing the world. Lily discovers something in him that has grown angry, and he fills his mind with complex race-relation issues. Lily wishes they could return back to the simple conversations they had before.

At dinner one night, Rosaleen directly asks June whether or not she will marry Neil. June will not answer. After dinner they say Hail Marys for the first time since May’s death.

Lily decides to move back into the honey house because she has missed having a room to herself. Lily is determined that the next day she will tell August the truth about her background. She is consumed by fear all night.

She sleeps late and awakens to the smell of cake. She walks into the kitchen to see Rosaleen, June, and August baking and singing. They explain that they are baking to celebrate Mary Day, the day that Mary rose up to heaven. The day serves as a remembrance day for Our Lady, and May named it Mary Day. Much work is required for the preparation of Mary Day: decoration, food, and of course the chaining of Mary. They have begun to decorate when Neil shows up at the door, asking for a word with June. Once again, Neil asks June to marry him, and this time June says yes. June and Neil leave immediately to go pick out a ring. August, Rosaleen, and Lily bubble over with excitement. As they prepare for the celebration, Lily is fascinated by seeing Zach mowing the lawn shirtless, even though she tries not to look.

June returns in the evening with her engagement ring, and everyone compliments its beauty. The Daughters come over to the house, and they feast. Lily determines to talk to August that night, and she realizes her intense love for her life in Tiburon. Lunelle offers to make her a hat like the hats of the other Daughters, and Lily is honored. They all eat Mary’s honey cakes, feeding each other the cakes. June apologizes to Lily for having given her a hard time at the beginning of her stay. August retells the story of black Mary while Otis and Neil chain Mary to the honey house.

Zach catches Lily’s eye and eventually holds her hand. Lily tells Zach that she used to be harassed by boys who would put live fish around her neck, forcing Lily either to swim to let the fish live, or to get out of the water and kill the fish. The fish would ultimately die against her. Lily also confronts Zach about how he has changed since being in jail. Zach confesses he gets angry, but he promises Lily that he will not become mean. Zach kisses Lily, and she loves everything about the kiss. Zach resolves to study hard this year and be able to go to college, and Lily assures him that he will succeed. Zach promises Lily that though they cannot be together now, after he becomes something he will come back for her. He gives her a dog tag with his name on it so that she will not forget.

The Daughters of Mary tease Zach and Lily for going off on their own. Lily waits for August in her room in order to finally come clean. Lily takes notice of the artwork, the books, and the items in August’s room. Lily is most taken aback by a book of pictures of Mary being given a lily by the angel Gabriel.

August enters her bedroom, and Lily takes out the photo of her mother. August insists that she looks just like her mother. August knew exactly who her mother was. August confesses that as soon as Lily told August her name, August knew exactly who she was. Lily asks why August did not bring it up sooner, but August insists that everything comes with time.

August tells Lily that she was a housekeeper in Deborah’s house. Deborah loved peanut butter and dolls but hated schoolwork. Lily also confesses that she lied about her father being dead. August knows his name, and Lily explains that he is a bad father. She tells August that T. Ray insisted that her mother left both T. Ray and Lily. Lily cries against August and says that she did not believe T. Ray; she set out to prove him wrong. Lily also divulges the details about Rosaleen’s arrest. Lily says that she is a bad person, having done so many wrong things, yet all of this is nothing compared to her worst sin: she killed her mother. Lily feels unlovable. August reassures her, however, that not only Zach but also all the Boatwrights and Daughters of Mary, even June, all love Lily.

Lily explains how she was able to find the Boatwrights using the black Mary picture and matching the picture with the honey label. August exclaims that it is almost as if Lily was meant to find them. Lily says that she is sure about that.

August describes her interaction with Lily’s mother. She explains how she began working for Deborah’s mother, Sarah, when Deborah was four years old. She worked there for nine years and then began teaching. When she left for South Carolina, Deborah was nineteen years old and was devastated that she left. Deborah moved to Sylvan, following the advice of a high school friend. Deborah met T. Ray there, and they were married. Lily questions why she would marry him, and August insists that he started off a good man; Deborah loved him. However, August points out, people change after life gets through with them. Besides, when T. Ray first proposed, Deborah had rejected the proposal, but she later changed her mind because she was pregnant.

Lily panics and realizes she was an unwanted baby. Lily wishes she never knew that. August reassures Lily that her mother said that Lily was such a pretty baby that it made her eyes hurt. August discusses what Lily always hoped to hear: that her mother had loved her and cared for her. August says that she thinks her mother was happy for a while, before her life changed toward unhappiness. She wrote to August saying she was leaving T. Ray, and she asked if she could stay with the Boatwrights for a while. She came to the house without Lily because she was depressed and falling apart.

Lily now decides that she hates her mother for leaving her behind. August attempts to reason with her, but Lily insists that she does hate her. Lily thinks it was easy for her mother to leave her since she was an unwanted baby in the first place. August explains that Deborah arrived to Tiburon as skin and bone. She would not eat and was depressed. August attempts to explain that people who are depressed do things they normally would not do. Lily flips back and forth between hating her mother and pitying her. Once Deborah’s condition improved, August continues, Deborah decided she would go back to Sylvan to get Lily.

Suddenly, Lily’s memory of the day her mother died seems new. In fact, Deborah had returned to get Lily, not just to get her belongings. Lily is angered by the fact that they did not get away from T. Ray that day. August continues, saying that she called the house to find out what happened to Deborah. A neighbor informed her of Deborah’s death. August tried to learn more, but T. Ray would not offer any information.

Lily feels that her new knowledge is a curse. She has the truth, but it is heavy. August reassures Lily that everyone makes mistakes, and her mother did the best she could to rectify the situation. August explains that nothing is perfect, and “there is only life.”


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.

Lily’s story about the boys harassing her and giving her a necklace of a live fish parallels her relationship with Zach. In the fish story, Lily has to decide whether to stay in the water and save the fish or to get out of the water and kill the fish. In her relationship with Zach, Lily knows that staying with him will be painful for both of them, for the world will not accept them as a couple. Yet, not being with him would also be painful, since both of them care for each other so deeply.

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.

As for Lily, she is pulled in two directions by her mother’s story. On the one hand, Lily is furious with her mother for leaving Sylvan to come to Tiburon without her. On the other hand, Lily knows that she returned in order to get Lily before she died, which makes her deserving of love, respect, and pity. Against these feelings, Lily finally is confronting the fact that she picked up the gun and killed her mother. Although it was an accident, she is furious with herself.