The Secret Life of Bees

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The Secret Life of Bees Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After May is buried, August stops making honey, and she and June eat their meals alone in their rooms. Lily feels a strong need to talk to August, but can’t find the courage to do so. Instead, she spends all her time writing in her notebook.
The irony of the novel is that after 200 pages of supposedly searching for information about Deborah, Lily now can’t pluck up the courage to directly ask August about Deborah. Finding and facing the truth is difficult.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Neil now comes to the Boatwright house all the time, and June and Neil go for car rides together. Zach visits, and on one visit Lily asks him if they’d be dating if she were a black girl. Zach replies that since Lily can’t change the color of her skin, they’ll have to “change the world” instead. He tells Lily about the Malcolm X supporters arming themselves with guns across the U.S., fighting back against the Ku Klux Klan.
This scene is Zach’s optimism in a nutshell. Instead of becoming weighed down by the pain and persecution of racism (as May was), Zach has enough youthful hope to “rise above” adversity. Even if it’s impossible to defeat racism here and now, Zach wants to fight it with gradual, prolonged change.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
One day, Lily finds Rosaleen in the kitchen setting the table for four. Lily is pleased, since this means that the group is going to have a meal together. The meal is fun and lively, and when it’s over everyone goes to the parlor to pray to the Virgin Mary. Afterwards, August touches the statue and sighs, “Well that’s that.”
Instead of repressing or denying their sadness, the Boatwright sisters acknowledge and even celebrate their own feelings. This is the healthiest way to deal with grief—eventually, everyone succeeds in moving on with their lives.
Themes
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Although Lily has been staying in May’s old room with Rosaleen, she decides to sleep in the honey house that night. That night in the honey house, Lily decides she’s going to show August the picture of her mother.
Although Lily never says this, it’s implied that August’s response to May’s death inspires Lily to talk to August. If August can “work through” May’s death, then perhaps Lily can work through Deborah’s death with August’s help.
Themes
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
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The next morning, Lily wakes up and goes downstairs, where June tells her that today is August 15—the Feast of Assumption (a Catholic holiday celebrating the Virgin Mary and her ascension to Heaven). Lily explains that at her usual church, “we don’t really allow Mary.” June says that the Feast of Assumption is “Mary Day” in the Boatwright House: the day the sisters celebrate Our Lady of Chains.
Based on what we’ve seen, “we don’t really allow Mary” is a pretty apt critique of Lily’s church: i.e., Lily’s church represses any explicit celebration of femininity, blackness, or motherhood. It’s especially fitting that “Mary Day” comes so soon after May’s death, allowing the Daughters a chance to reaffirm their own beliefs and lives in the wake of tragedy.
Themes
There’s a knock on the door—it’s Neil. June asks Neil what he’s doing here: she can tell that he’s feeling nervous. Neil says that he’s come to ask June to marry him, “for the 100th time.” June is taken aback that Neil is asking her in front of other people. But after a moment of silence, she replies, “All right. Let’s get married.” Neil kisses June on the mouth and takes her to pick out a ring immediately.
Lily isn’t the only one inspired by May’s death. June has realized that there’s no point in cutting herself off from other people: she should give into her desires for Neil, and claim happiness for herself by marrying him. The close companionship of the three sisters has now been broken, however, so there is something tragic even in the joy June and Neil experience.
Themes
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
The rest of the Boatwright house proceeds with work for Mary Day, overjoyed by June’s good news. Lily makes garlands all day, and the Boatwrights offer to make Lily a hat for the festivities. Lily accepts, on the condition that it’s blue. In the evening, Zach and the Daughters arrive at the house, and everyone celebrates Mary Day together. They eat honey cakes and retell the tale of Our Lady of Chains. June feeds Lily a honey cake and says, “I’m sorry for being so hard on you when you first got here.”
There’s a sense of healing and maturation in this section. June and Lily put aside their differences—indeed, it’s implied that June’s dislike with Lily partly reflected her own insecurities and personal problems. Moreover, Lily gets her own hat, another symbol of her maturation and her acceptance into the Daughters of Mary (something important but also problematic, as discussed in the previous chapter). And of course, Lily’s hat is blue, the color of Mary.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
In the late evening, Zach and Lily take a walk outside. They walk by a stream, and Lily thinks about taking off her clothing and bathing in the stream. She tells Zach about a day from her childhood when a group of boys mocked her and made her wear a “fish necklace.” Zach admits to Lily that sometimes he’s angry at the world, just as Lily was angry on that day. Lily makes Zach promise her that he’ll never take out his anger on other people. Zach responds by kissing Lily on the lips. He tells her, “We can’t be together,” but swears that one day, they will be. He gives Lily the dogtag he wears around his neck, and she decides to wear it around her own neck from now on.
Zach and Lily’s kiss promises everything—but not right now. Zach and Lily know that they need to be “strategic” with their desires: even though they like each other, they know that their lives would be harder if they were to date (Zach could even be arrested or killed). This is the opposite of the attitude Rosaleen showed when she stood up to the trio of white bullies—there was nothing “strategic” about her decision to do so. Lily adopts a different approach (probably because she doesn’t have Rosaleen’s understandable anger at a lifetime of oppression): she sacrifices her happiness now so that she can have a better life later. On the part of both Lily and Zach, this is a sign of maturity and restraint lacking in many teenaged romances.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon