The Secret Life of Bees

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The Secret Life of Bees Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
According to a book on bees, a honeybee relies on careful communication with other bees.
Lily needs to communicate with other people in order to better understand herself.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
It’s July 28, a “day for the record books,” Lily claims. It’s an especially hot day, but everyone goes about the house, making honey as usual. Lily and August go to put more sugar water in the hives, as the hot weather has probably evaporated the water already inside. While Lily replaces a lid on a hive box, a bee stings her. August explains that the hot weather makes the bees “out of sorts.” Lily asks August if she thinks she could be a beekeeper one day. August tells Lily that if she loves beekeeping, she’ll find a way to do it.
The suggestion that the bees are “out of sorts” foreshadows the violence and tragedy that’s going to occur in this chapter. August’s advice to Lily about beekeeping might as well apply to Lily’s ambitions to go to college and become a writer: if she sets her mind to it and works hard, she’ll succeed. August gives Lily the life lessons that Deborah and T. Ray should have given her.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lily and August come back from the hives to eat lunch. After their meal, Rosaleen finds a hose and sprays it at her friends. They laugh together, and August wrestles Lily for control of the hose, giggling about the absurdity of roughhousing with a girl less than half her age.
In this amusing scene, Lily and August seem more like equals and friends than a student and a mentor. This scene of happiness and silliness also seems positioned to foreshadow the end of Lily’s idyllic times with the Boatwrights.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
In the afternoon it gets even hotter. Lily rests in the honey house and thinks about her call to T. Ray. She wants to tell Rosaleen about it, but decides against doing so, since this would involve admitting to someone else that she cares about her father.
It’d be much easier if Lily despised T. Ray completely. He’s still her father, however, and they’ve experienced a shared tragedy in the loss of Deborah, so Lily still has some compassion for him, and thus she remains deeply conflicted.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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Lily goes into the house for a drink of water, and finds May sitting in the floor. May says that she’s seen a roach on the ground—she’s busy making a trail of marshmallows on the ground to lure the bug into the open. Lily remembers that her mother used to do exactly the same thing: she remembers T. Ray telling her that her mother would lure roaches with marshmallows. She can’t help but wonder if May learned the trick from her mother. Lily asks May if she ever knew a woman named Deborah Fontanel (Deborah’s maiden name). May immediately replies, “She stayed out there in the honey house.” Lily is amazed to hear this: she can sense that May wouldn’t lie about this. Stunned, Lily leaves the house and returns to the hone house without saying anything else to May. She falls asleep, and has a vivid dream about making a trail of honey to lure her mother back home.
May Boatwright is one of the most ambiguous characters in the book, and in this section, we can see why. Although May is supposedly simpleminded, she’s also straightforward and sweet in a way that suggests a kind of wisdom. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this scene is that Lily could have asked May, point-blank, about Deborah at any time and gotten a straight answer: only Lily’s own reticence and cowardice have kept her in the dark this whole time. As long as Lily wants to find out more about her mother’s past, she’ll be able to do so. The problem is that she’s been afraid of learning the truth for so long.
Themes
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
The next morning, Lily goes into the house and greets the Boatwrights. They can tell that something is off with Lily, but Lily refuses to explain herself. She wants to ask August about Deborah and demand to know why August didn’t tell Lily she knew Deborah. In the end, however, Lily decides against this: a part of her doesn’t want to know the answer.
In a way, we already knew that Lily felt conflicted feelings for Deborah. As much as Lily talks about finding out “the truth” about her mother, there was always a part of her that was afraid of this as well, because she felt guilty about her mother’s death.
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
On Friday afternoon, Lily takes the photograph of her mother and goes to talk to August about Deborah. As she’s about to walk into the house, Zach calls her—apparently, August is in the house talking with customers. To pass the time, Zach invites Lily to go to the store with him. As they drive the honey wagon to the store, Lily and Zach see an unusually big crowd in the street. Lily realizes that the people have come out to see Jack Palance. Zach tells Lily to wait in the honey wagon while he goes into the store to buy a radiator. Lily senses that something will go wrong.
Just as Lily is about to talk to August about Deborah, something gets in the way (again). This increases the suspense, as Kidd has been building up to the moment when August and Lily talk about Deborah for so many long. Lily’s feeling now explicitly foreshadows tragedy to come.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Lily watches as Zach crosses the street to go to the store. He greets a trio of his friends, one of whom shouts that Jack Palance isn’t coming to Tiburon at all. A group of white men, one of whom is carrying a shovel, hears this, and walks toward Zach and his friends. One member of the trio—a boy named Jackson, Lily later learns—hits one of the white men with his soda bottle. An even bigger group of white men rushes over to Zach and his friends, demanding to know who used the bottle as a weapon. None of the boys speak, even though the group promises to let the other three go if they reveal the perpetrator.
This scene is an interesting variation on the scene from Chapter 2 in which Rosaleen stands up to the three white bullies. Here, Zach and his friends refuse to incriminate each other: even though it’s in their self-interest to give up Jackson (who technically was the aggressor here), they have such a strong sense of loyalty that they stand in solidarity together.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lily watches as the police arrest Zach and his friends. Horrified, Lily runs back to the Boatwright house (Zach had the keys to the honey wagon) and finds August, Neil, Clayton Forrest, and Rosaleen gathered together: Zach has used his one phone call to alert Forrest to his arrest, and Forrest has spread the word. Forrest explains that the judge is out of town, meaning that Zach has no choice but to spend the next five days in jail. August’s eyes have a “fire inside them.”
Zach, no less than Rosaleen, is the victim of an unjust law system. Although the police are technically just doing their job—arresting a group of people who were involved in a violent act—they’re actually just upholding the racist status quo. They treat Zach and his friends unnecessarily harshly, holding them in jail for almost a week, and make no effort to bring in the white bullies who antagonized Jackson.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lily goes to the jailhouse, along with August. August tells the jailer, a man named Eddie Hazelwurst, that she’s Zach’s godmother. He allows August and Lily to see Zach for five minutes. In his cell, Lily finds that Zach looks frightened and uncertain. August tries to calm him by telling him about the bees on the farm. Zach asks Lily if she’s been writing in her notebook. Lily wants to touch Zach’s face, but knows that she must not. Instead, she tells Zach that she’ll put his experience in a story.
This scene is an apt metaphor for the relationship between Zach and Lily: although they like each other, there are “bars” between them, symbolizing the racist beliefs of Southern society at the time. As a result, Lily knows that she can’t give into her feelings for Zach, or else she’d be endangering his life.
Themes
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
For the next few days, the Boatwright house is desperate for any news about Zach. Nobody tells May what’s happened, for fear that she’ll go to the stone wall again. Unfortunately, she answers a phone call from Zach’s mother, and learns about Zach’s imprisonment. Eerily calm, May goes to the wall to put a new slip of paper in the cracks.
We’ve wondered what’s going to happen to May when she can’t contain any more tragedy, and based on this scene, May is getting close to that breaking point. The Boatwright sisters try their best to keep May happy, but in the end it’s impossible to keep May sheltered from the reality of the world’s evils.
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