According to a book about bees, honeybees need social companionship to survive.
Lily is sleeping by herself in the honey house, symbolizing her growth and independence. But, Kidd implies, she still needs friends.
July comes to an end, and Lily and Rosaleen are still living with the Boatwrights. Lily imagines naming herself after a month (like the Boatwright sisters are). After some thought, she chooses October, since it would make her initials “O.O.” Lily finds herself settling into the routine of life in the Boatwright house. She also learns that August makes a lot of money selling honey: enough money to buy a much nicer, bigger house.
As Lily spends more time with the Boatwrights, she feels a desire to become one of them. Thus, she wants to cast aside her old name and “become” a month; i.e., another Boatwright sister. Of course, this once again underlines the naïveté of Lily’s worldview (and perhaps Kidd’s as well), as she assumes that the only things necessary for her to be a Boatwright sister are to have a few empathetic experiences and change her name. She has no idea of the lifetime of oppression and dehumanization they have faced as black women, and only a limited perspective on the community they have created for themselves.
One day, August tells Lily to glue images of the black Virgin Mary to the honey jars. As Lily looks at these images, she imagines what her life would look like if she hadn’t found this image in the Tiburon general store. As she works, August tells Lily that black Virgin Maries aren’t unusual around the world. August asks Lily, quite unexpectedly, what she “loves.” Lily answers that she loves writing and reading, the color blue, Rosaleen, and Coca-Cola.
This is the first time that August has asked Lily such deep, personal questions. As Kidd indicated in the previous chapter, the time has come for Lily to do some soul-searching, and as August’s question reveals, a big part of this soul-searching will be coming to terms with different kinds of love. Lily’s love for the color blue—the traditional Christian color of the Virgin Mary—is no coincidence: she’s still hungry for a mother-figure.
August tells Lily a secret. The black statue in her house isn’t really the Virgin Mary at all; it’s just a figurehead from an old ship. The figurehead has been in the Boatwright family for many generations—when the Boatwright sisters were younger, their own grandmother would show them the figurehead and tell them the story of Obadiah. August explains that the people of Tiburon need something to believe in, so August gives them an image of a black Mary: a god who looks like them.
August’s point is that rituals and ceremonies, like those the Daughters of Mary practice, aren’t important because of their literal characteristics (or the literal truth of their history or supernatural power), but rather because they provide a sense of comfort and validation to worshippers, and also inspire worshippers to feel like they are part of something larger than themselves. People can gain strength and even religious ecstasy from this, and also (especially because the Daughters of Mary are black women living in a racist, patriarchal society) have their own dignity, value, and holiness affirmed.
August tells Lily more about her grandmother: she taught August how to take care of bees. Her grandmother claimed that bees hummed the music of Jesus Christ. August clarifies that this isn’t literally true: some things, she explains, are true, but not literally true. August also tells Lily about her parents. Her mother met her father, a dentist, because she had a toothache.
August clarifies the point she made in the previous section by distinguishing between literal and figurative truth. Even if it’s not literally true that the Virgin Mary statue came from a slave, for example, the idea has a kind of spiritual truth—an ability to inspire worshippers.
August continues to tell Lily about her life. She and June studied at a teachers’ college in Maryland, but they never got teaching jobs. August then worked as a housekeeper, and then—after her grandmother died—as a beekeeper. She’s had many offers to marry, but she’s always turned them down, explaining that her life is good enough without a man. Once, she claims, she was in love with a man, but she didn’t marry him, since she loved her freedom even more.
August draws another distinction between freedom and marriage. So far, we’ve seen that August lives in (and has essentially created) a community where women have a lot of freedom and power, and dominate the social scene. August believes that she’d destroy this community by bringing men into it.
August and Lily go out to inspect the hives (just as Lily and Zach did a few weeks before). Out on the bee farm, August tells Lily to close her eyes and listen to the sound of the bees humming. August tells Lily that bees have a secret life: inside the hive, there are many different kinds of bees, all of whom work hard to make the hive successful. There are queen bees, field bees, mortician bees, worker bees, etc. As Lily thinks about the lives of bees, she falls into a strange trance-state. She imagines the queen bee: the center of the hive, and the “mother of thousands.” Suddenly, Lily hears August’s voice—she’s been calling to Lily. August asks Lily if she’s all right, and Lily doesn’t know how to answer. August tells Lily that they need to have a talk, soon.
Kidd reveals the meaning of her novel’s title in this crucial scene, as Lily experiences a kind of spiritual awakening. Just as bees have a “secret life”—a life inside their hive that people never see—humans have their own secret inner life. This could refer either to the tiny, self-contained community of women at the Boatwright house, or to the self-contemplation and soul-searching that all people must experience to truly grow and be happy.
In the afternoon, Lily and August return to the house for a late lunch. June and May are preparing a delicious feast, and May proudly claims that she hasn’t put any paper in the stone wall for the last five days. Zach joins the meal. He announces that he’s heard some exciting news: the movie star Jack Palance is coming to Tiburon, and he’s bringing his black girlfriend. August dismisses this news—it’s unlikely that a movie star would come to such a small town. Zach insists that he’s right. The group finishes the meal, and afterwards Zach announces that he’s off to deliver some honey. Lily asks to go with Zach. At first August says this is a silly idea, but after Lily asks again, she allows it.
Although most of the news of the country outside the Boatwright house is pretty depressing, especially for black people, Zach gives us one (however small) sign that the country is changing its attitude on race for the better: a prominent white movie star has a black girlfriend. It’s also suggested that August probably knows that Lily is attracted to Zach—from the way she tries to deter Lily from following Zach, then gives in, we can guess that she understands their sexual tension (especially when it’s juxtaposed with the mention of Jack Palance and his black girlfriend).
Zach and Lily walk down Main Street toward the house of a prominent attorney named Clayton Forrest. Outside, Zach greets Forrest’s secretary and announces that he’s brought honey. The secretary greets Lily, and asks her who she is. Lily says that she’s been working and sleeping at August’s house. The secretary finds this shocking, and Lily senses that she’ll be spreading this piece of gossip around the town.
Just as not all men are cruel and mean, not all of Kidd’s women are kind and nurturing—the secretary’s sense of superiority to black people outweighs whatever sympathies she might have for Lily.
Mr. Forrest emerges from his office and invites Lily and Zach inside. He introduces himself to Lily, and tells her that August is a good friend of his. Then he tells Zach that he has an interesting legal case for him to look at. While Forrest and Zach look at the case Lily waits outside Forrest’s office, inspecting the advanced university degrees hanging on his wall.
Mr. Forrest, a white man, doesn’t seem to look down on Zach, unlike his secretary—on the contrary, he treats Zach as a promising student who could make a great lawyer one day. While there’s a huge divide between black and white societies in this book, there are a few like Forrest who bridge the divide with support and understanding.
While Lily waits, she has an idea. She goes to the telephone outside Forrest’s office and uses it to place a call to T. Ray. T. Ray answers the phone and realizes that he’s speaking to his daughter. He asks her where she is, and tells her that she’s in big trouble for helping Rosaleen escape. Lily only asks T. Ray one thing: does he know what her favorite color is? T. Ray doesn’t even bother to answer this: he says he’s going to tear her to pieces. Lily hangs up the phone, crying at her father’s indifference.
Lily’s conversation with T. Ray reminds us how different Kidd’s novel has become: what seemed like an adventure story about a runaway prisoner has become a book about soul-searching and religious enlightenment. This is reflected in the question Lily asks her father: she doesn’t want to know about the police investigation; she just wants to know if T. Ray loves her and wants to understand her. It would seem that he doesn’t.
Zach and Forrest emerge from Forrest’s office. Zach is carrying a heavy legal book, which Forrest has instructed him to study well. Forrest greets Lily and begins to ask her questions about her parents. Before she can be caught in a lie, Lily tells Forrest that she has to be going.
We’re reminded that Lily’s reasons for being in Tiburon are pretty flimsy—they couldn’t stand up for five minutes in front of Mr. Forrest. Lily’s a good liar, but she knows better than to try and lie to a trained lawyer. This makes us wonder how much longer she can stay in Tiburon before she’s found out.
Lily goes home and writes a letter to T. Ray, even though she knows she could never send it. In the letter, she tells her father she’s “sick to death” of his yelling. She berates him for not remembering her favorite color, and reminds him of the beautiful Father’s Day card she made for him at the age of 9—a card that he ignored. She ends the letter by saying that she doesn’t believe that Deborah was going to leave her. After writing the letter, Lily rips it to pieces. She contemplates writing another letter to her father, in which she says, “I’m sorry.”
The letter Lily writes her father is an important reminder that Lily relies on storytelling and writing to make sense of her own feelings. She never sends the letter, but there’s value in writing it, anyway: it helps her clarify how she feels about her father, separating out her conflicted emotions (just like May with her stone wall). While Lily clearly has some love for her father (hence the second letter she imagines), she also recognizes that he’s a mean man and a bad parent.
Late at night, Lily wanders through the Boatwright house. She sees the statue of the Virgin Mary and observes that it looks very different at night: older and more mysterious. She faces the statue and prays that she and Rosaleen won’t be arrested or hurt. She touches the statue with her palm, and thinks, “You are the mother of thousands.”
Lily seems to be embracing August’s religion, she still isn’t conceiving of it in personal terms: Lily still thinks of the Virgin Mary as being outside of her, a supernatural force represented by the statue, rather than something within her. Here Kidd also explicitly connects the theme of mothers and daughters to the Virgin Mary herself, as Mary is the mother-figure even for the novel’s other mother-figures (like August and Rosaleen).