The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5 and 6

Lily finds that living with the Boatwrights provides an oasis apart from the rest of her life. August gives Rosaleen new clothes, and Rosaleen insists that she will repay her for them. Lily notices that May again sings “Oh Susannah” and leaves the room. May teaches Lily the honey song. Everything is honey and beeswax. The women eat honey at every meal, and beeswax cures every ailment.

May and Rosaleen become fast friends. Rosaleen discovers that May regularly begins to sing “Oh Susannah” in response to unpleasant subjects. The humming often leads to tears, and her only comfort during these episodes is to visit her stone wall outside. May loves all living things, and she refuses to harm even the smallest spiders. May loves bruise-free bananas almost as much as honey, but she disposes of the flawed fruit. Rosaleen does her best to put the bruised bananas to use through various banana recipes, but at last August convinces her to just throw them away.

June is a little more difficult to understand. She was a teacher, and she now plays the cello for dying people. Lily overhears June insisting to August that Lily and Rosaleen were lying about their backgrounds. August agrees, but she insists that the Boatwrights can offer help. June also is discontent with Lily staying in their house because she is white. At the end of the night, while going to the bathroom, Lily has a revelation: her urine is no different from June’s.

In the evenings, the women watch the news. They watch the unfolding of the events of the Civil Rights Movement, and Lily feels even more self-conscious about her whiteness. May often skips the news, often forced into her ritual of “Oh Susannah” and crying. After the news, the women pray to a statue of black Mary which they call “Our Lady of Chains.” August explains that the sisters have taken the Catholicism of their mother and added their own twist.

August assures Lily that if Lily asks for Mary’s help, she will provide it. August tells Lily a story about a runaway nun who received the help of Mary. Lily asks Mary for assurance that she will never have to return home and that the police will not apprehend her and Rosaleen.

Lily begins receiving lessons from August about “bee etiquette,” which August again equates to the human world. Lily learns lessons about not being an idiot and sending out love. August keeps her bees in farmers’ yards all over Tiburon. Checking on these hives is called “Bee Patrol.” Lily wants August to want to love her and keep her forever.

August and Lily discuss May’s wall. May built the wall out of stones from the river. She has spent ten years building it. August explains that May is very susceptible to feeling the pain of others. She treats the pain as her own. Lily wondered what it would be like if someone shared the pain she had. August tells Lily that May had a twin sister April, and May would suffer the symptoms of April’s injuries and sickness. When April died as a young child, May began to absorb the pain of the world. April had suffered from terrible depression as a child, and at age fifteen she killed herself. June and August had decided to start the wailing wall to assist May with her pain. May writes down the names of people in pain or events that caused pain, and she puts the notes in the wall.

Lily is constantly swelling in feelings. She hopes that T. Ray feels sorry for being a poor father. She misses her mother, and she wonders about the details of Deborah’s life.

Rosaleen begins to express jealousy that Lily has been spending most of her time with August. Rosaleen warns Lily about delving too deeply into her mother’s past in order to protect herself. Lily puts a piece of paper with her mother’s name on it into May’s wailing wall.

At the beginning of Chapter Six, Lily meets Neil for the first time. Upon meeting Lily, Neil asks a series of questions that Lily feels she will not be able to avoid, such as where she is from, how long she is staying, and so on. Neil is in love with June and has continually asked her to marry him. June keeps refusing; she had been engaged before, but her fiancé never showed up to the wedding. When the topic is brought up in front of May, she begins to sing “Oh Susannah” and has to leave for the wailing wall.

On Sundays, the Daughters of Mary group meets for prayer services in the Boatwright house. The Daughters of Mary are mostly women: the Boatwright sisters, Queenie, Violet, Lunelle, Mabelee, Cressie, and Sugar Girl. The group also includes one man, Otis Hill. At these events, June plays the cello and the group recites Hail Marys.

At Lily’s first meeting of the Daughters, August retells the story of Our Lady of Chains. The story involves a slave, Obadiah, finding a wooden figure of Mary. Obadiah retrieves the statue, and he hears the statue reassure him that she will take care of him. He brings the statue to the prayer house, and another slave named Pearl explains that the statue is the mother of Jesus. The people celebrate the statue and find strength from touching her heart. Soon, the master discovers the statue and chains it to a barn. Soon, however, the statue is found to have broken the chains.

After the story, the Daughters begin dancing, and then each of them slowly walks up to the statue of Mary to touch her heart. Lily is compelled to do the same, so she rises and walks toward Mary to touch her heart. As she does so, June stops playing the cello, and Lily realizes that she is not included in the ritual. August scolds June for her inhospitality, and Lily faints.

Lily wakes up in August’s room after the meeting of the Daughters. Everyone attributes Lily’s fainting to the heat of the day. That night, the Boatwright sisters, Lily, and Rosaleen all watch Walter Cronkite tell the country that the United States will be sending a man to the moon. August gets upset by this announcement, and she tells Lily that the mystery of the moon is ending. At the end of the night, Lily resolves that she will touch Mary’s heart and that she will show August her mother’s picture of black Mary.


Lily becomes inculcated with the Boatwrights’ obsession for bee products. She learns songs about bees and honey, she eats honey at every meal, and she uses honey to clean herself. Lily instantly realizes such physical differences in her new honey-filled life. There seems to be parallelism between what honey does for Lily’s body and what beekeeping does for Lily’s soul. Lily’s confidence grows due to her skill in beekeeping, and she is happy with her new life in Tiburon.

Lily continues to learn how the bee yard is a symbol for the world at large. When Lily begins beekeeping, she learns rules of the yard and ultimately of the world. Lily also learns lessons like not to be afraid, not to be an idiot, not to express her anger, and to act like she knows what she is doing. Most importantly, Lily is told to send out love.

May’s ritual reaction to unpleasant situations, singing “Oh Susannah” and going out to the wailing wall, is a stark contradiction to Lily’s tactic for dealing with unpleasantness. While May has an outward reaction, Lily has been avoiding uncomfortable situations, such as ignoring interaction with June. These are two examples of the different coping mechanisms that are exhibited by characters throughout the novel. June’s anti-white racism might be June’s own way of coping with loss or with the anti-black racism she has experienced herself.

Lily begins to see race relations in a new light. When she interacts with white people now, she is doing so as a white resident in a black home. She finds that people of the same race do their best to connect their families and hometowns, in order to determine if they are interconnected. Lily has found that black people rarely ask her about her background, presumably because they believe that there will be no way for their paths to connect. The irony here, however, is that Lily has deep connections to the Boatwrights through Lily’s mother, whose experience directly led Lily to find the bee company and its owners.

The idea of statues coming to life has a long history in literature. Here, the story of Our Lady of Chains is a metaphor for the success of black women in America and specifically for the Boatwrights. Just as Mary was once bound, the Boatwright sisters were forced into work in domestic positions despite their college educations. Yet, once they inherited the bee farm, they were unbound, free to make significant money and successful lives for themselves. In addition, the Boatwrights, like black Mary, send their love and care to their friends within the community. The mythology of black Mary, Our Lady of Chains, seems like the main twist on the Catholicism of the sisters’ mother. (In this context, one should remember Kidd’s own spiritual journey, not neatly fitting any traditional religion.)

Gender is again brought into relief during the meeting of the Daughters of Mary, for all the members save one are women. Otis Hill is the one man among the women. In this way he is thus a parallel to Lily, the one white person among the Boatwrights. For June, gender is less of a problem than race; Lily is not supposed to be one of the Daughters. Fortunately, June is the exception, and August reasserts her family’s hospitality toward Lily.