The Secret Life of Bees

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The Secret Life of Bees Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Another selection from the bee book explains that honeybees are mostly female—males are born and raised, but only when their presence is required.
So far the novel has included very few male characters, and this trend continues throughout, as Kidd focuses mostly on women and the female perspective.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Rosaleen and Lily have come to August Boatwright’s house. They watch a black woman, presumably August, walking outside the house and then going back inside. After a moment of hesitation, Lily and Rosaleen decide to approach the house. At the door, a woman named June Boatwright (August’s sister) greets them and invites them in. Inside, Lily and Rosaleen meet May Boatwright, August’s other sister. Rosaleen explains that they’ve come for August’s honey. Lily notices that the Boatwrights’ house is full of elaborate carvings of women. One statue, about 3 feet tall, catches Lily’s attention—it seems to say, “Lily Owens, I know you down to the core.”
Our first impressions of the Boatwright house are of a boisterous, self-sustaining community (like a beehive). There are only women living in the Boatwright house (supporting the gist of the epigraph for this chapter), suggesting that Lily will find more maternal figures like Rosaleen. There are various points in the novel when Lily hears a voice in her head. Here the voice seems to come from a statue, though of course, it’s really coming from Lily’s own imagination. This distinction (between internal and external) will become important in the final chapters.
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
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
August Boatwright enters the room and greets Rosaleen and Lily. August notices that Rosaleen has been hurt recently, and before anyone can say anything, she tells Rosaleen and Lily that they’ll stay in the house that night. Lily thanks August, and then makes up a lie: she and Rosaleen, she claims, are looking for work so that they can earn enough money to go to visit Lily’s aunt in Virginia. Her parents have died in tragic accidents, she adds. August nods, but Lily senses that she can see through the lie.
Previously, we’ve seen that Lily’s ability to lie under pressure is an important part of her coming-of-age, because it shows that she’s brave and self-confident. But following this scene, in which August clearly sees through Lily’s lies, the emphasis of the book will change. Lily will now continue her education by confronting the truth about herself, instead of making up lies about herself.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
In the afternoon, August takes Lily and Rosaleen to the “honey house,” where August makes and bottles her honey. Inside, Lily finds elaborate honey-making equipment. August shows Lily and Rosaleen how to use some of the equipment, and explains that her grandfather left her a huge bee farm. August tells Lily that her usual assistant, a teenager named Zach, is on vacation. When Zach returns, August, Lily, and Zach will work together to make the honey. As Lily listens, she realizes that, in spite of herself, she’s always thought of black people as less intelligent than white people. Now, she can see how foolish she was to believe this: August is obviously an intelligent, capable woman. August leaves Rosaleen and Lily to sleep in the honey house. When they’re alone, Lily urges Rosaleen not to say anything about Lily’s picture of Mary.
It doesn’t take long for Lily to see that her preconceptions about black people are racist and condescending. The cure for this, Kidd suggests, is understanding: Lily hasn’t spent more than half an hour among the Boatwrights before she realizes, as if for the first time, how wrong she was to look down on black people. (It’s unclear why she wouldn’t have come to this realization before with Rosaleen, if she really considers Rosaleen a mother-figure.) This is also one of the problematic aspects of the novel, however, as Kidd’s portrayal of the issue is rather simplistic, implying that if white people would just “try out” black culture for a bit, racism would be cured. Kidd chooses to deal with things on an individual level, which is important in its own way (especially for young people like Lily), and she chooses not to touch issues of structural and systemic racism. Instead the theme of racism is a side issue to Lily’s coming-of-age.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
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The next morning, Lily goes for a walk around August’s house. She finds a stone wall with hundreds of small bits of paper sticking in the cracks. Lily takes one of the pieces of paper and reads the message written on it: “Birmingham, Sept. 15, four little angels dead.” After reading this, Lily keeps walking, and comes to a small creek, similar to the one where she and Rosaleen bathed. She finds the creek very peaceful, and wishes she could stay there for the rest of her life.
The chapter ends (and, for that matter, began) with a big, ambiguous symbol: a stone wall with pieces of paper sticking out of it. There’s also another creek near the Boatwright house, suggesting that Lily is going to be “born again” during her time with August. The “four little angels” refer to the four black girls killed at church by a white terrorist’s bomb.
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
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon