The Secret Life of Bees

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The Secret Life of Bees Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The epigraph for this chapter, again from a book about bees, explains that when a swarm of bees leaves an old hive, a few “scout bees” look for a new colony, and eventually the entire hive settles.
Kidd’s symbolism becomes more obvious. The “scout bees” that we read about here seem to predict that Rosaleen and Lily will soon go exploring for a new place to live.
Themes
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Immediately after the events of the previous chapter, the police drive Lily and Rosaleen to the police station. The police officer who drives them is Avery Gaston, nicknamed “Shoe.” Behind the police car, the three men who insulted Rosaleen drive their own car to the station. Rosaleen seems calm as she sits next to Lily.
Rosaleen’s calmness during the car ride is all the more impressive when one considers that nobody (apart from Lily) is on her side: the sheriff thinks she’s a criminal, and the three men who attacked her are right behind her, threatening her with their very presence. Instead of relying on others to feel safe, Rosaleen projects an inner calmness.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
At the station, Rosaleen refuses to walk with Gaston and the other police officers. The three men pull up to the station in their car, and watch as Rosaleen refuses to comply. Suddenly, one of the men walks up to Rosaleen and smashes her face with a heavy flashlight. Gaston coolly tells the man, whom he calls Franklin, that “Now’s not the time.”
This is a wrenching scene, both because it depicts Rosaleen getting hurt and because it reveals the extent of the injustice of the town. Even Gaston, the police officer, is on the racists’ side: in fact, he knows them by name, and treats them as friends. “Now” is not the time for violence—but Gaston seems to have no problem with them attacking Rosaleen later.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Inside the jail, the police officers force Lily and Rosaleen to sit in a cell. Lily is sure that T. Ray will get both of them out. After a time, Gaston tells Lily to come out—T. Ray is there to pick her up. Lily is uncertain about leaving Rosaleen in the cell, but Rosaleen tells Lily to leave. Outside, T. Ray orders Lily into the car. As they drive home, he furiously tells her that Rosaleen picked a fight with Franklin Posey, the “meanest nigger hater” in the town.
Much like Lily, T. Ray doesn’t hate black people, but he still has the deeply ingrained racist tendency to blame them for their own oppression. Here, for example, he’s implying that Rosaleen, not Posey, is to blame for her injuries.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
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Back at home, T. Ray orders Lily not to leave her room. Quietly, Lily replies, “You don’t scare me.” T. Ray tries to hit her, but she ducks, and he misses. Lily screams that her mother will protect her, and her father replies, “You think that goddamn woman gave a shit about you?” T. Ray tells Lily that Deborah was planning to leave both of them on the day she died—she’d come back to the house to collect her things. With these words, he leaves Lily alone.
Once again, we don’t know how to interpret T. Ray’s words. He’s clearly not thinking clearly, since he’s just tried to punch his own daughter in the face. And yet we don’t know of any reason why T. Ray would be lying to Lily. This uncertainty reflects the fact that, for all her love, Lily doesn’t really know anything about her mother.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Lily sits in her room, struggling to understand what she’s just heard. She wonders if it’s possible that her mother could have been so cruel, and then it occurs to her that T. Ray could be lying to her. This possibility makes her feel better. Suddenly she hears a voice in her head, saying, “Your jar is open.” She decides that she can’t live with her father anymore. She packs clothes, money she’s earned by selling peaches, and other basic items. She leaves a note for her father, in which she tells him to “rot in hell” for lying about Deborah.
Kidd adds some more bee symbolism as Lily realizes that she has no reason to stay in Sylvan—she’s just kept living in her oppressive “jar” because that’s what was familiar and expected of her. It’s important to recognize that Lily is running away from her mother as well as her father: deep down, she can’t stand the possibility that T. Ray might be telling the truth about Deborah.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Lily walks along the road to the center of the town. As she walks, she decides to join Rosaleen, and then go to Tiburon, South Carolina, the town scribbled on the back of Deborah’s picture of the Virgin Mary. As she reaches this decision, Brother Gerald drives by. When Lily explains that she’s headed to the jailhouse, Gerald offers to drive her: he’s headed there, too. In the car, Gerald says that he’s pressing charges against Rosaleen for stealing the two fans, which he describes as a “sin.” Lily lies and says that Rosaleen didn’t understand that she was stealing the fans. She adds that Rosaleen had gotten in a fight with the three men because they’d insulted her for singing a church hymn. Lily can sense that she’s changing Gerald’s mind about pressing charges.
Brother Gerald’s racism takes the guise of organized religion: he sanctimoniously preaches about sin, even though it’s pretty unlikely that he’d be pressing charges if it had been a white woman who “stole” the fans. And yet Gerald isn’t a completely bad guy: he’s capable of feeling some sympathy. Lily is good at manipulating Gerald—she knows that he respects religion (and doesn’t want to be caught being hypocritical), and she uses this information to turn him against the white men who attacked Rosaleen. Lily is adept at making up “stories” (lies, essentially) to get what she wants in situations where she would otherwise be powerless.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
At the police station, Brother Gerald and Lily learn from Gaston that Rosaleen has been sent to the hospital because of her injuries—after Lily left, she “took a fall.” Gaston warns Lily to stay away from the hospital, or he’ll call her father again.
In another horrifying scene, we see just how callously the white police allow blatant racist violence to continue even right in front of them.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Despite Gaston’s warning, Lily goes to the “colored wing” of the hospital. She’s able to sneak by a nurse, since the nurse is flirting with a police officer, and find Rosaleen. Rosaleen, who’s weak and in pain, tells Lily that the three men continued to hit her after Lily left, apparently with Gaston’s approval. Although a part of her wants to tell Rosaleen that she should have apologized to the men in order to avoid the beating, Lily tells Rosaleen that they need to escape the hospital immediately. She explains that Rosaleen will be in danger here—Franklin Posey and his friends will probably try to kill her soon. Reluctantly, Rosaleen agrees that Lily is right.
Although Lily has shown signs of being cautious and timid, she’s brave and determined here (and, tellingly, resists her urge to “blame the victim”). Rosaleen seems rather unrealistically naïve here, as surely she would know the reality of her situation better than a fourteen-year-old white girl. Kidd focuses on Lily, however, and the incident with Rosaleen mostly provides an impetus for the two escaping town.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
While Rosaleen rests, Lily finds a pay phone, and uses it to call the nurse in the colored wing of the hospital. Pretending to be the wife of a jailer, she tells the nurse to tell the police officers in the hospital to go back to the station at once. To her surprise, the nurse sighs and agrees to spread the word.
In this scene, Lily becomes more mature and confident by lying. Lily is clearly a smart, creative girl—here, she surprises herself by using her talent as a “storyteller” to bend the universe to her will.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Shortly after her phone call, Lily tells Rosaleen that it’s time to leave: the officers have left. Rosaleen walks with Lily, pretending to be a visitor instead of a patient. Outside, Lily tells Rosaleen that they’re going to Tiburon, South Carolina. Rosaleen agrees that they should try to get out of town. They stand by the side of the highway, and before too long, a black man driving a truck stops and lets them in. After Lily explains where they’re headed, the man says he can drop them three miles outside of Tiburon.
Lisa and Rosaleen have a surprisingly easy time getting out of Sylvan: they’re not seen as they leave the hospital, and within an hour they find someone willing to drive them to Tiburon. While it’s possible that Kidd is just rushing through this section of the book to get to the “good stuff,” there also may be something more interesting going on. In a novel that often relies upon divine providence, Kidd gives the sense that Lily is being guided on her quest—it’s as if there’s a divine presence leading her to Tiburon.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Lily and Rosaleen ride with the man for 90 miles, and when he lets them out, they see from a sign that they’re close to Tiburon. It’s late at night, and they walk slowly along the highway toward the town. As they walk, Rosaleen asks Lily why she chose to go to Tiburon, of all places. Lily explains the writing on the back of the picture—a reason that Rosaleen doesn’t find very convincing, since the city’s name could have been written by anyone at any time. Nevertheless, when Lily shows Rosaleen the picture, Rosaleen is intrigued by the fact that the Virgin Mary is black.
We see everything from Lily’s point of view, so she naturally assumes that she’s the leader in his “adventure”—because she’s more enthusiastic, because she’s white, and because Rosaleen technically works for her. Rosaleen acts as more of a skeptic here, but we also don’t see much of her point of view.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lily tells Rosaleen what T. Ray told her about Deborah. Rosaleen agrees with Lily that it’s possible that T. Ray lied. Nevertheless, she’s disappointed that Lily plans to track down information about her mother in Tiburon, as this will be extremely difficult. Lily grows frustrated with Rosaleen’s cynicism and tells her to stop criticizing her. Rosaleen angrily explains that Lily has been acting like she’s Rosaleen’s “keeper.” Lily replies that Rosaleen needs a keeper—she shouldn’t have picked a fight with three white men. Lily angrily walks away from Rosaleen, toward the thick trees by the highway, and goes to sleep under a tree.
Rosaleen finally points out the obvious fact that Lily has been treating her like a servant, an assistant, or even a child. Lily even dares to say that Rosaleen shouldn’t have talked back to the white men—essentially implying that Rosaleen should have meekly let the racists do whatever they wanted to her. Quite understandably, Rosaleen refuses to hear this racist talk from Lily.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
When Lily wakes up, Rosaleen is nowhere to be seen. She feels regret for yelling at Rosaleen, and wanders through the forest. To her surprise, she finds Rosaleen bathing naked in a creek, her shoulders covered in tiny, milky beads of water. Transfixed, Lily removes her clothes and goes to bathe with Rosaleen, imagining herself licking the beads of water off of Rosaleen’s shoulders. Rosaleen laughs at the sight of Lily naked, and together they bathe contentedly in the cool water.
This is a surprising way to end the chapter, and there’s a lot of symbolism going on here: the Lily is “baptized” and “born again” in the water, hopefully shedding some of her racist preconceptions. Furthermore, Lily returns to regarding Rosaleen as a mother figure, even imagining herself licking milky water off of Rosaleen (a clear symbol for breastfeeding).
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon