The Secret Life of Bees

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The Secret Life of Bees Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In a book about bees, we learn that it’s a misconception that bees are constantly having sex—on the contrary, bees have no sex lives whatsoever.
Kidd sets the tone for a chapter about Lily’s sexual maturation, but also about withholding one’s desires.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
It’s July 13, and Zach, August’s assistant, has returned from his vacation. He introduces himself to Lily as Zachary Taylor. He’s a few years older than Lily, and wears a dogtag with his name written on it. At first, Lily is reluctant to befriend Zach—she’d been getting close with August, and regards Zach as a nuisance. Zach tells Lily he hadn’t expected to see a white girl in the Boatwrights’ house. Lily finds Zach handsome. She remembers going to school and laughing at jokes about black people’s noses, and feels guilty for doing so.
Lily hasn’t had much contact with black people her own age—even the positive black role models in her life aren’t exactly her friends. For this reason, Lily’s first meeting with Zach is a milestone for her. Again, Kidd implies that the “antidote” for racism is understanding and friendship—within minutes of meeting a black teenager, Lily starts to rethink her position on race. This again is a rather oversimplified view, although it’s important for Lily’s personal development. The trend also seems to be that all the black characters in the book exist mostly just to teach lessons to Lily.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Because August is checking on hives at another farm, Zach and Lily proceed with making honey. Zach tells Lily about his love for Miles Davis, and they joke about music and football. Zach tells Lily that he’s a good student and a good athlete—he might even be able to go to college in the North on scholarship. Lily senses that they’re going to be good friends.
We know that Lily aspires to go to college and study writing, and Zach seems similarly set on getting a college education. Zach and Lily refuse to embrace small-town Southern life: they reject the roles their communities assign them.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Lily, August, and Zach soon settle into a routine. They spend the day extracting and mixing honey: catching beeswax, filtering pollen, etc. In the evenings, Lily makes awkward conversation with June, who, she knows, doesn’t like her at all. Lily’s favorite time of day is her lunch with Zach. Zach tells Lily about his dreams of becoming a lawyer. When Lily points out that she’s never heard of a black lawyer, Zach confidently says he’ll be the first.
It’s made more clear that June doesn’t like Lily very much (something we’d already guessed), but we also see that Lily and Zach have a real rapport. Zach seems not to fault Lily for voicing her preconceptions about what blacks can and should do—he appears to be very confident, but also rather naïve.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
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It’s been two weeks since Lily arrived with Rosaleen. One day, June approaches Lily and asks her how much longer she’s going to stay. Lily lies and says that she’ll write her aunt for bus fare, adding that she’d hoped to stay around for longer to make some more money. June seems to find this reply satisfying—she says, insincerely, that nobody wants Lily to go away. Lily feels an urge to ask June about her mother’s picture of the black Virgin Mary, but she doesn’t out of caution.
From the reader’s perspective, Lily seems to have spent much longer than two weeks with the Boatwrights: this reflects the fact that Lily has changed enormously in a short time. But as time goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that Lily can’t stay here in this “hive” of learning and growing forever. She needs to reach some closure regarding Deborah, after which she’ll have no further reason to stay in Tiburon.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
One night, Neil comes to the Boatwrights’ house and has a hushed conversation with June. Lily eavesdrops on the conversation, and overhears Neil saying he’s not going to “wait forever.” Suddenly Neil leaves the room, walking right past Lily, and leaving June to cry.
Although Neil is talking about “waiting” to marry June, his words could apply equally well to Lily. Lily seems to be biding her time before she confronts August about Deborah and the picture, but she can’t wait forever.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
August sends Zach and Lily out to harvest some beehives. Zach drives a honey cart along the road while Lily daydreams about building a snow cave with him. She imagines sleeping next to Zach, whose body, she thinks, must be very warm. Zach notices that Lily looks odd, and asks her if she’s all right. As the day goes on, Lily sees Zach with his shirt off in the hot sun, and realizes that she’s attracted to a black boy—something she’d always assumed could never happen to her. In the afternoon, Zach shows Lily some honey, and lets her lick honey off his finger. To Lily’s surprise, Zach doesn’t kiss Lily—instead, he moves on to the next hive.
Clearly, Lily is sexually attracted to Zach. This is a milestone for Lily, not only because she’s experiencing an important part of coming of age, but also because she’s never been attracted to a black boy before. Although it seems that Zach shares Lily’s feelings, there’s a wall between the two of them, preventing either one from expressing their desires—and that wall is the huge, seemingly invincible power of society. Lily understands that black-white relationships are frowned upon, but seems ignorant of how dangerous such a relationship would be for Zach, who could easily be killed by racist white men “protecting their women.”
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
After their near-kiss, Zach and Lily drive the honey wagon back to the house. During the ride, Zach points out a sign saying that Tiburon is the home of Willifred Marchant—supposedly a famous Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Zach asks Lily, a little dismissively, about her ambitions of becoming a writer. This makes Lily think about her plans to earn a scholarship for college. She wonders if she’ll ever be able to do so, now that she’s on the run with Rosaleen. Lily begins to cry: at first because of her future, but then because of her romantic feelings for Zach. Zach gently touches Lily and tells her she’s going to be a great writer one day.
Kidd makes it clear that Zach is more than just a “pretty face.” He doesn’t just flirt with Lily; he supports her and encourages her to believe in her dreams and continue writing. This is an important scene, because it represents one of the first times in the book when a man gives Lily love and support (contrast Zach’s encouragement with T. Ray’s indifference!). While most of the loving characters in this book are women, Kidd isn’t trying to suggest that only women are capable of loving.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lily and Zach return to the Boatwright house, where she finds that Rosaleen is moving from the honey house to May’s room—she claims that the cot in the honey house is bad for her back. Lily is upset to be on her own in the honey house, and remembers how much she cares about Rosaleen.
Lily is on her own, figuratively and literally: for the rest of the book, she’ll have to grapple with her relationship with Deborah. Although she has help and support from others, at the end of the day she has to reach her own decisions.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lily sees August reading a book outside. August asks Lily if she’s okay with the new sleeping arrangements. Lily says, “I guess so,” and August explains that May will sleep better with another person in the room. She shows Lily the book she’s reading, Jane Eyre, which, she explains, is about an orphan who runs away.
August’s explanation for why Rosaleen must move to May’s room isn’t entirely convincing (why does May need a roommate now, specifically?). It’s possible that May’s depression is worsening, or that August feels that Lily should be on her own. August continues to be a wise, guiding figure (and thus almost a stereotype) helping Lily to mature and grow.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Lily and August hear a fight on the other side of the house. Lily sees Neil arguing with June: he tells her she’s a “selfish bitch” and storms off. June yells, “Don’t ever come back.” May, who witnesses all this, writes, “June and Neil” on a piece of paper and slips it in the stone wall.
May steadily accumulates tragedies, both personal and public. The obvious question is, what happens to May when she can’t “take” any more tragedy? What happens when there are no more cracks left in the wall?
Themes
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Lily can’t stop thinking about Zach. That night, she can’t fall asleep—partly because she’s alone for the first time, and partly because she’s thinking about Zach. She has a dream in which she dreams about Zach, and then her mother. The next day, Zach arrives for work with a beautiful green notebook, which he gives to Lily, saying it’ll help her begin her career as a writer. Zach tells Lily that he likes her a lot, but that he needs to be careful: there are people who’d kill him for kissing a white girl. Lily nods. For the next few days, she writes stories in her notebook and reads all of them to Zach.
Zach does like Lily, but he knows that he can’t give into his desires for fear of being bullied or even murdered. (Bans on interracial marriage were some of the last relics of the South’s racist past to be struck down—actually, South Carolina forbid blacks and whites from intermarrying until 1967.) Although Zach and Lily have ambitions to change the world in the future, they reluctantly agree to play by society’s rules for now. Lily’s devotion to writing seems to correspond to her new introspectiveness and loneliness in the honey house.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon