The Secret Life of Bees

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Rosaleen is a proud, middle-aged woman who works as a maid for T. Ray and Lily Owens in Sylvan, South Carolina. Shortly after Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act, Rosaleen goes into town to register to vote, setting in motion the events of the novel. Rosaleen is an extremely strong, confident woman, and her refusal to “back down” when confronted by racist whites causes her to go to jail, and eventually run away from Sylvan with Lily. Lily is extremely close with Rosaleen: in the absence of a mother, she regards Rosaleen as a maternal figure. Critics have pointed out that Rosaleen recedes from view in the second half of The Secret Life of Bees—while she’s present for most of the key events in these chapters, it’s hard to think of a single thing she does. Nevertheless, Rosaleen is an important influence on Lily in the novel: when Lily doubts herself, or feels afraid, she can always turn to Rosaleen for love and support.

Rosaleen Quotes in The Secret Life of Bees

The The Secret Life of Bees quotes below are all either spoken by Rosaleen or refer to Rosaleen . 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 1 Quotes

I used to have daydreams in which she was white and married T. Ray, and became my real mother. Other times I was a Negro orphan she found in a cornfield and adopted.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Rosaleen , T. Ray Owens
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Lily has a lonely life with her father, T. Ray. In her imagination, she fantasizes about escaping her home and "starting over." For Lily, Rosaleen--the black woman who usually takes care of her--represents a path to escape. As far as Lily can tell, Rosaleen is a proud, confident woman--practically a role model for Lily, who seems neither proud nor confident.

The quotation is important because it suggests Lily's deep need for a maternal figure--a need that trumps the racial mores of the era. Despite the fact that blacks were still treated as second-class citizens in the South during the 1960s (the era in which the novel is set), Lily gravitates to Rosaleen without hesitation. Her need for a mother is so great that she ignores the racist sentiments of her father and friends (although Lily still has a racist worldview at this point). Lily's fantasies of becoming a "negro orphan" also foreshadow the plot of the novel. As we'll see, Lily will run away and join a family of black women.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

“Well, if you ain’t noticed, she’s colored,” said Rosaleen, and I could tell it was having an effect on her by the way she kept gazing at it with her mouth parted. I could read her thought: If Jesus’ mother is black, how come we only know about the white Mary?

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Rosaleen (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary, The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Lily and Rosaleen are "on the run" from the police (Rosaleen has been unfairly arrested for defending herself from a group of racist white men). They decide to travel to the city of Tiburon, based on a picture of the Virgin Mary depicted as a black woman, which Lily finds among her dead mother's possessions. Rosaleen is reluctant to travel so far based on nothing but Lily's hunch, but she's also interested in tracking down the people who would depict such an important Biblical character as black.

In a way, Lily's quest to track down the "Virgin Mary" is a quest to find a maternal figure: without ever saying so, Lily seems to want to go to Tiburon to learn more about her mother, and perhaps even find solace in the religious mother-figure of Mary. Rosaleen's interest in going to Tiburon is a little different, as the passage makes clear. Rosaleen seems to be most curious about meeting people who share her religious convictions but don't exclude African Americans from religious practice (unlike the racist white preachers we've met in Chapter 1). In a nutshell, Lily seems most interested in the maternal implications of the Virgin Mary picture, while Rosaleen seems more interested in the racial implications. The picture speaks to both women, but in different ways.

“You act like you’re my keeper. Like I’m some dumb nigger you gonna save.”

Related Characters: Rosaleen (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Lily and Rosaleen are still on the road, fleeing from the police. They've agreed to journey to Tiburon, a town that's many miles away. Along the way, Rosaleen begins to get fed up with Lily. It was Lily's idea to go to Tiburon in the first place, and lately, Lily has been acting like the "leader" of the duo, despite the fact that Rosaleen is a much older woman, and has been taking care of Lily for many years. Rosaleen calls out Lily for her condescending attitude--an attitude that's rooted in racial prejudice as much as anything else.

Although Lily has generally been presented as an intelligent, fair-minded young woman, Kidd doesn't deny the fact that she still has the racist worldview of her time and place. Lily would never hurt Rosaleen, but she's been trained to think of Rosaleen--and all African Americans--as being "below" whites in every way. The quotation is important, then, because it establishes a problem--Lily's cluelessness around African Americans--that will slowly be solved over the course of the novel.

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Rosaleen Character Timeline in The Secret Life of Bees

The timeline below shows where the character Rosaleen appears in The Secret Life of Bees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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It’s July 1, 1964 (a flashback from the previous scene). The narrator sits in bed. Rosaleen, the family maid, has worked for the narrator’s family since the narrator’s mother’s death. Because... (full context)
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...she had no mother to present her with the traditional white rose, she wasn’t admitted. Rosaleen had wanted to give her the rose, but because Rosaleen is black, this wasn’t allowed. (full context)
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...tries to catch a bee to prove that she wasn’t lying last night. She shows Rosaleen the jar she’s found, and Rosaleen warns her that she’ll be stung. Lily nods, thinking... (full context)
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...say anymore—was born in Virginia. Growing up without a mother, Lily had to rely on Rosaleen for “mother’s advice” about things like her period, trying out for the cheerleading team, etc.... (full context)
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...6 pm on the hot July day, Lily walks back to the house. She finds Rosaleen in the living room, watching the television set. Lyndon B. Johnson has just signed the... (full context)
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In the evening, Rosaleen tells Lily that she’ll be in town tomorrow, rather than coming in to clean the... (full context)
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...her father gets home, Lily tells him that she’s going to walk into town with Rosaleen to “buy some sanitary supplies.” T. Ray nods, disgusted, as he assumes Lily is talking... (full context)
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In the morning, Rosaleen presents Lily with a cake for her birthday. Lily gratefully eats some of the cake,... (full context)
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A priest named Brother Gerald greets Lily, but looks uncomfortable around Rosaleen, who, as a black woman, isn’t allowed in the church. Gerald has previously told Lily... (full context)
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Lily and Rosaleen proceed to the “bad part” of Sylvan. They see a group of rough-looking men playing... (full context)
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The police arrive, and inform Rosaleen that she’s under arrest for “assault, theft, and disturbing the peace.” (full context)
Chapter 2
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Immediately after the events of the previous chapter, the police drive Lily and Rosaleen to the police station. The police officer who drives them is Avery Gaston, nicknamed “Shoe.”... (full context)
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At the station, Rosaleen refuses to walk with Gaston and the other police officers. The three men pull up... (full context)
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Inside the jail, the police officers force Lily and Rosaleen to sit in a cell. Lily is sure that T. Ray will get both of... (full context)
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...the road to the center of the town. As she walks, she decides to join Rosaleen, and then go to Tiburon, South Carolina, the town scribbled on the back of Deborah’s... (full context)
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At the police station, Brother Gerald and Lily learn from Gaston that Rosaleen has been sent to the hospital because of her injuries—after Lily left, she “took a... (full context)
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...sneak by a nurse, since the nurse is flirting with a police officer, and find Rosaleen. Rosaleen, who’s weak and in pain, tells Lily that the three men continued to hit... (full context)
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While Rosaleen rests, Lily finds a pay phone, and uses it to call the nurse in the... (full context)
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Shortly after her phone call, Lily tells Rosaleen that it’s time to leave: the officers have left. Rosaleen walks with Lily, pretending to... (full context)
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Lily and Rosaleen ride with the man for 90 miles, and when he lets them out, they see... (full context)
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Lily tells Rosaleen what T. Ray told her about Deborah. Rosaleen agrees with Lily that it’s possible that... (full context)
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When Lily wakes up, Rosaleen is nowhere to be seen. She feels regret for yelling at Rosaleen, and wanders through... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Lily gains new respect for nature after she bathes in the stream with Rosaleen. She imagines that Mother Nature looks like Eleanor Roosevelt, and the next morning, she tells... (full context)
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Rosaleen wakes up, and murmurs that she dreamed about Martin Luther King, Jr. The two of... (full context)
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Rosaleen and Lily arrive at a general store, which is open, even though it’s Sunday. While... (full context)
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Rosaleen and Lily walk toward August’s house. Lily stops at the post office to check if... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Rosaleen and Lily have come to August Boatwright’s house. They watch a black woman, presumably August,... (full context)
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August Boatwright enters the room and greets Rosaleen and Lily. August notices that Rosaleen has been hurt recently, and before anyone can say... (full context)
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In the afternoon, August takes Lily and Rosaleen to the “honey house,” where August makes and bottles her honey. Inside, Lily finds elaborate... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 5
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The chapter is focused on Lily and Rosaleen’s first week with August and her sisters. During this time, Lily is in a state... (full context)
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Rosaleen befriends May, who’s very simpleminded. She spends much of her time catching spiders and eating... (full context)
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Every evening, Lily and Rosaleen eat dinner with the Boatwrights while watching the news on TV. They learn that blacks... (full context)
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A week has passed since Lily and Rosaleen came to the Boatwrights’ house. That evening, August shows Lily how the queen bees lay... (full context)
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...goes to bed in the honey house, and thinks about her parents, especially her mother. Rosaleen, who’s sleeping in the honey house as well, asks Lily if she’s all right. When... (full context)
Chapter 7
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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.... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 8
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July comes to an end, and Lily and Rosaleen are still living with the Boatwrights. Lily imagines naming herself after a month (like the... (full context)
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...unexpectedly, what she “loves.” Lily answers that she loves writing and reading, the color blue, Rosaleen, and Coca-Cola. (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...(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,... (full context)
Chapter 10
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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,... (full context)
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Lily and Rosaleen sit in the police station, being questioned by Eddie Hazelwurst. After the group discovered May’s... (full context)
Chapter 11
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One day, Lily finds Rosaleen in the kitchen setting the table for four. Lily is pleased, since this means that... (full context)
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Although Lily has been staying in May’s old room with Rosaleen, she decides to sleep in the honey house that night. That night in the honey... (full context)
Chapter 12
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After she’s finished crying, Lily explains the rest of her story: she and Rosaleen snuck out of Sylvan after Rosaleen went to jail for trying to register to vote.... (full context)
Chapter 13
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The next morning, Rosaleen wakes Lily up and asks her what happened downstairs—sheepishly, Lily admits she broke some honey... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...she’s a runaway, and she knows August is expecting her to move on soon. Meanwhile, Rosaleen tells Lily that she’s going to register to vote. Lily is nervous, since Rosaleen is... (full context)
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Rosaleen returns to the house, having registered to vote. As Rosaleen returns, Lily tells her, “I... (full context)
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T. Ray asks where Rosaleen is, and Lily lies and says Rosaleen has already left the house. Then T. Ray... (full context)
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...Mary meetings. Forrest tells Lily that he’s “working things out” in Sylvan, so that neither Rosaleen nor Lily has to serve jail time. Lily makes friends with Forrest’s daughter, Becca. Becca... (full context)