The Secret Life of Bees

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The youngest and strangest of the Boatwright sisters, May is an odd, mentally disturbed woman who becomes deeply depressed whenever anything tragic happens to anyone. Whenever a tragedy occurs, May writes it down on a piece of paper and slips the paper into a stone wall near her house. In addition to being enormously sensitive, May is highly observant. In the end, she commits suicide by drowning herself in a nearby stream, unable to cope with Zach’s arrest and imprisonment. Her suicide could be said to represent the psychological toll that racism has taken on the black community in America.

May Boatwright Quotes in The Secret Life of Bees

The The Secret Life of Bees quotes below are all either spoken by May Boatwright or refer to May Boatwright . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Secret Life of Bees published in 2003.
Chapter 4 Quotes

I walked the length of the fence, and it was the same all the way, hundreds of these bits of paper. I pulled one out and opened it, but the writing was too blurred from rain to make out. I dug another one. Birmingham, Sept 15, four little angels dead.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), May Boatwright
Related Symbols: The Stone Wall
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lily follows May Boatwright--the strange, quiet Boatwright sibling--to the stone wall near the Boatwright house. There, Lily finds hundreds of slips of paper, crammed into the cracks of the wall. One of these slips of paper mentions four "angels" killed in Birmingham--a clear allusion to the four black girls who were murdered when the Ku Klux Klan bombed a black church that had been supportive of the Civil Rights Movement.

May is deeply saddened by the racism and intolerance in the United States; whenever a new tragedy occurs, she writes it down and slips the note into the wall. May is a vessel for the racial tragedies of her country; moreover, she herself has become so overwhelmed with tragedy that she's turned to the stone wall to help her "carry the weight." May's actions have a ceremonial, performative quality. As with the other ceremonial acts in the novel, May's behavior doesn't literally accomplish anything, but the symbolic act of filing away papers helps May feel stronger and more in control.

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May Boatwright Character Timeline in The Secret Life of Bees

The timeline below shows where the character May Boatwright appears in The Secret Life of Bees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
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
...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...that Lily and Rosaleen can earn their stay later by working in the honey room. May teaches Lily a song about bees, which Lily enjoys singing. Lily quickly learns that life... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Rosaleen befriends May, who’s very simpleminded. She spends much of her time catching spiders and eating bananas. June... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...night, after watching a news story about a black man who was shot in Georgia, May goes to the bathtub to cry, and her sisters comfort her gently. (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...asks August about the stone wall with the pieces of paper, and August explains that May pushes a piece of paper into the wall whenever a tragedy occurs. August explains that... (full context)
Chapter 6
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...the first time, how odd it is for three unmarried sisters to be living together. May seems especially sad about Neil. Lily suggests she go to the stone wall, and May... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
June and Neil walk inside, and June asks what’s upset May. Impulsively Lily answers that May’s upset that June and Neil won’t get married. Neil laughs... (full context)
Chapter 7
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
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... (full context)
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
...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... (full context)
Chapter 10
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lily sits in the kitchen with August, June, and Rosaleen while May goes to the stone wall. May doesn’t return for a very long time, and eventually... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The group rushes toward August’s voice, and find August standing near a stream. They see May lying underwater with a huge river stone on her chest. The stone weighs down her... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
...Rosaleen sit in the police station, being questioned by Eddie Hazelwurst. After the group discovered May’s suicide, Lily explains, the police arrived and took May’s body for an autopsy. Hazelwurst insisted... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
In the days following May’s suicide, the police perform an autopsy, and August organizes a public vigil for her sister.... (full context)
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
...comes to the house to greet Zach and give his condolences to the Boatwrights about May. August embraces Forrest and thanks him for his concern. After Forrest leaves, August murmurs that... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...takes Zach and Lily to “drape the hives”—cover them with a veil in honor to May. The purpose of this tradition, August explains, is to prevent the bees from flying away... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
The Daughters of Mary arrive at the Boatwright house with food for May’s vigil. At the vigil, a guest named Queenie jokes that May’s body looks so good... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
On the second morning of the vigil, August finds that May left a suicide note underneath an oak tree. In the note addressed to August and... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
...4 days. At the end of this time, the funeral home comes to pick up May’s body to be buried, and Lily goes outside to listen to the sound of the... (full context)
Chapter 11
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
After May is buried, August stops making honey, and she and June eat their meals alone in... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Although Lily has been staying in May’s old room with Rosaleen, she decides to sleep in the honey house that night. That... (full context)
Chapter 12
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
...to Lily, because Lily wasn’t ready to face the truth. Lily, stunned, tells August that May—before her suicide—told her that Deborah had stayed in the honey house. (full context)
Chapter 13
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...because it lets her know that her mother loved her greatly. She remembers praying that May would make it to Heaven and tell Deborah to send a sign that Lily was... (full context)