The Secret Life of Bees

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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

Time folded in on itself then. What is left lies in clear yet disjointed pieces in my head. The gun shining like a toy in her hand, how he snatched it away and waved it around, The gun on the floor. Bending to pick it up. The noise that exploded around us. This is what I know about myself. She was all I wanted. And I took her away.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

In this flashback scene, Lily Owens, the novel's protagonist, recalls an episode from her childhood that's haunted her ever since. As a young girl, Lily witnessed her parents fighting. Lily's father, T. Ray Owens (who still takes care of her) yelled at Lily's mother, Deborah, and Deborah waves gun at T. Ray. Lily can't really recall what happens next, but she believes that she picked up the gun and accidentally fired it at Deborah.

Lily has spent most of her life living in guilt for killing her mother. She can't recall exactly what happened (she was only a small child), but she doesn't especially try to recall—she's afraid of what she'll learn. It seems unhealthy for anyone to feel guilty for what they did at the age of four. But because Lily has no one to talk to--T. Ray seems to despise her--her guilt and anxiety accumulates over the years. Lily's guilt at killing her mother might also represent a kind of "original sin." Sue Monk Kidd fills her novels with Christian themes, and Lily's "sin"--the murder of her mother, for which, as we'll see, she both is and isn't guilty--symbolizes the state of sin that (at least according to Christianity) all human beings are born into.


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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.

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.

I opened my mouth. I wanted something. Something, I didn’t know what. Mother, forgive. That’s all I could feel. That old longing spread under me like a great lap, holding me tight.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

At the tail-end of Chapter Two, Lily and Rosaleen reconcile. They've been arguing over who's the "leader" of the duo, and whether or not Lily is being racially insensitive. But here, Lily's desire for a mother figure overcomes any disagreement between her and Rosaleen. Even if her upbringing in the South has trained her to think of blacks as second-class, her deep longing for a mother (something she's felt ever since the death of her biological mother years before) pushes her to cast aside her racist preconceptions and embrace Rosaleen.

The passage also has a strong religious element. Lily is overcoming her anger and frustration in the simplest and gentlest way: by asking for forgiveness. As the quotation suggests, the mere act of begging for forgiveness (a quintessential element of Christianity) is enough to diffuse all the tensions--racial and otherwise--between Lily and Rosaleen. The echoes of Christianity in the passage further suggest that Lily's "longing" isn't just a longing for a mother-figure; Lily seems to long for some kind of religious solace as well.

Chapter 3 Quotes

According to Brother Gerald, hell was nothing but a bonfire for Catholics.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Brother Gerald
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

For most of the novel, Lily will make friends with black Catholic women--a veritable trifecta of oppressed citizenship in the South. (Blacks are perceived as inferior to whites; Catholics as inferior to Protestants; women as inferior to men.) As this quotation makes clear, the church in the South is deeply unfriendly to the Catholic religion; preachers even suggest that all Catholics go to hell.

The quotation further implies that the Christian institutions of the South, in spite of their claims to teach love, mercy, and faith, are often just used to justify hatred. As we've already seen, the church in Lily's town is deeply prejudiced against black people; it's not surprising that it's similarly intolerant to Catholics. As the novel progresses, Lily finds a form of Christianity that--unlike the one she grew up with--is loving and accepting of all people, including and especially the people that society disdains.

Chapter 4 Quotes

The lips on the statue had a beautiful, bossy half smile, the sight of which caused me to move both my hands up to my throat. Everything about that smile said, Lily Owens, I know you down to the core.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

When Lily arrives in the Boatwrights' house, she's surprised to see a small black statue of the Virgin Mary. The statue makes an impression on her because--as the quote makes very clear--it seems to "understand" her; i.e., it seems to know all about her secret fears and anxieties (her guilt about her mother's death, for example).

The passage is an excellent example of how ceremony and ritual play an important part in religion. Lily knows nothing about the specific rituals associated with the statue. But the mere presence of the statue is enough to inspire feelings of honesty and conviction in her: the statue's beautiful shape and important place in the Boatwrights' house signals that it's an important object, around which Lily should be respectful.

It's also interesting to consider that the Boatwrights are associated with Catholicism at various points in the novel; Catholicism usually being considered a more ritualistic, ceremonial form of Christianity than the Protestantism on which Lily was raised. As the quotation makes clear, rituals and ceremonies are crucial for "drawing out" feelings of faith and purity in Lily.

It should be noted that the statue also has some awkward racial undertones, specifically in the word "bossy," as Kidd presents the Black Mary as the kind of archetypal wise, outspoken black mother-figure for Lily—characteristics that are certainly complimentary, but highlight how all the black figures mostly exist to guide and teach Lily, rather than existing in their own right.

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.

Chapter 5 Quotes

“Mary smiled at Beatrix, then led her back to her room and gave her back her nun outfit. You see, Lily, all that time Mary had been standing in for her.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

August Boatwright tells Lily--now living in her home--a mysterious parable. In the story, a young nun runs away from her convent and spends miserable years on the road. When the nun returns to her home, she's amazed to find that the Virgin Mary was "covering for her," taking her place so that none of the other nuns would notice her absence. As with any parable, August's story is designed to provoke careful thought and meditation. It's worth listing a few of the possible interpretations of the story:

1) As Lily initially believes (wrongly), August is suggesting that Lily return to her home with T. Ray--just as Beatrix the nun was able to return to her home without a problem, so too could Lily return to her father without fear.

2) The story suggests that we all have a mother-figure who watches over us. Such a message is especially relevant to Lily, who longs for a mother to take care of her, and--during the course of the novel--moves between several different "mothers," including Rosaleen and August herself.

3) The parable's ultimate suggestion, as verified by August herself, is that Mary, "the Lady of Chains," could act as a stand-in for Lily's biological mother, Deborah. This is a reminder that Lily's story isn't just the story of her search for the truth about her mother; it's also about her struggle to find religious faith. Over the course of this struggle, Lily often thinks that she's unlovable--that God hates her because of her "crimes." The purpose of August's story, then, is to suggest that everyone--even Beatrix the disobedient nun--gets love and help from the Lord.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“The people called her Our Lady of Chains. They called her that not because she wore chains…”

Not because she wore chains,” the Daughters chanted.

“They called her Our Lady of Chains because she broke them.

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker)
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, we see the Daughters--a group of black women who worship the statue of the Lady of Chains / Virgin Mary--uniting together in ritualistic celebration. The passage makes several important points about the nature of the Daughters' religious practice.

First, the passage suggests the way that ritual is used to reinforce religious faith and create a sense of community. Everyone in the scene already knows the story of the Lady of Chains (they've been saying the chant for years). But the Daughters continue to perform the chant to remind themselves of the beautiful story on which their religion is founded: a story in which a prisoner attains freedom and dignity through the strength of her faith. Moreover, the chant builds cooperation and unity between the Daughters: the Daughters are a close-knit group, and their religious rituals keep it so.

Additionally, the passage shows some of the racial components of the Daughters' religion. By choosing to worship a prisoner, the Daughters (all of whom are black) clearly allude to African Americans' traumatic history as slaves for white Americans. "Chains" might also suggest the racist laws and practices that keep black people poor and segregated, even 100 years after slavery was banned. By celebrating the story of the Lady of Chains, the Daughters are suggesting that even the most racially persecuted members of society can find happiness and empowerment by embracing God.

Chapter 7 Quotes

At my school they made fun of colored people’s lips and noses. I myself had laughed at these jokes, hoping to fit in. Now I wished I could pen a letter to my school to be read at an opening assembly that would tell them how wrong we’d all been. You should see Zachary Taylor, I’d say.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Zachary Taylor / Zach
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

As the passage makes clear, Lily grew up mocking black people as inferior. It was common for the white students at Lily's school to make insensitive jokes about blacks--and Lily herself joined in. Now, having met a beautiful black boy, Zachary, Lily sees how wrong she was to joke about black people.

The passage makes an important point about how racism is perpetuated over time. Lily doesn't particularly dislike black people, but she joins in her friends to "fit in." For all Lily knows, nobody at her school genuinely hates black people--rather, the general "peer pressure" of racism sweeps Lily and her friends along. In addition, the passage suggests that the ultimate antidote to racism is education and experience. White people continue thinking of black people as inferior, it's implied, partly because they're ignorant of black people's lives. All it takes for Lily to renounce her racial insensitivity is to meet one black boy her own age--a testament to the isolation of prejudice.

At the same time, this is a rather oversimplified view of racism. Kidd only deals with prejudice on the individual level, and so her "lesson" that white racism could be overcome by white people just meeting more black people (and beautiful black people in particular—it's suggested that it's mostly Lily's attraction to Zachary that humanizes him for her) certainly doesn't deal with other larger, more structural incarnations of bigotry and oppression.

“Lily, I like you better than any girl I’ve ever known, but you have to understand, there are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you.”

Related Characters: Zachary Taylor / Zach (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, Zachary Taylor, the handsome black youth on whom Lily has developed a big crush, tells Lily that he's attracted to her, but can't give in to his feelings. The reason Zachary can't date Lily is that he'd be risking his life: the "color line" is so severely enforced in the South that a black boy could easily be murdered for dating a white woman. (Zachary may be alluding to Emmett Till, the black 14-year-old who was infamously lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman.)

Zachary is far more aware of the realities of race in the South than Lily is (because Lily doesn't have to be, and Zach does). From Lily's perspective, the only thing that matters is that she and Zachary like each other--but Zach knows better. It's highly unfair that Lily and Zach must wait to date one another, but they have little to no choice in the matter. The fact that Zachary wants to wait (even at the end of the novel) reflects the fact that the fight for black equality is far from over: even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, there's an enormous amount of work left to do.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“Well,” August said, going right on with her pasting, “you know, she’s really just the figurehead off an old ship, but the people needed comfort and rescue, so when they looked at it, they saw Mary, and so the spirit of Mary took it over. Really, her spirit is everywhere, Lily, just everywhere.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: The Black Virgin Mary
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quotation, August tells Lily the truth about the statue of "Our Lady of Chains." Although the Daughters worship the statue as a sacred object, the truth is that this object itself is totally ordinary--just an old figurehead that fell off a ship.

August's point is that the statue--and for that matter, all ceremonies and rituals--is important not because of its physical shape, qualities, or history, but because of the passion it can inspire in its devotees. The very fact that so many people worship the statue makes the statue meaningful; not the other way around. One could even say that the least important part of worship is the literal object being worshipped; more important is the sense of faith and community centered around the object. In such a way, ritual is really a testament to the powers of the human spirit, not the magical powers of a statue.

“What I mean is that the bees weren’t really singing the words from Luke, but still, if you have the right kind of ears, you can listen to a hive and hear the Christmas story somewhere inside yourself.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

One day, August takes Lily out to visit her collection of beehives. Lily is stunned to see a vast collection of hives, from which comes a strong humming noise--the noise of thousands and thousands of bees. August claims that one can hear the sound of music in the hives, along with the key stories of Christianity, such as the "Christmas story."

The episode reinforces an important point: the mind and spirit are the most powerful things in the world, and they have the power to endow even ordinary things (like an old statue, or the buzzing of bees) with extraordinary meaning and power. This is Kidd once again commenting on the importance of ritual and keeping an open mind to the wonder of the world.

“Egg laying is the main thing, Lily. She’s the mother of every bee in the hive, and they all depend on her to keep it going. I don’t care what their job is—they know the queen is their mother. She’s the mother of thousands.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Related Symbols: Bees
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Out by the beehives, August Boatwright explains the importance of the queen bee to Lily Owens. The queen bee, August says, is the "mother" of all the other bees in the hive. In other words, the queen has an unfathomable responsibility; a responsibility that she weathers calmly and peacefully. There are many different ways to interpret August's quote. One could argue that the queen bee represents the mother for whom Lily is still searching. Lily began her quest to Tiburon by searching for literal information about her biological mother. But over time, Lily has begun to interpret her need for a mother more and more abstractly. At first, she gravitated toward August--a kind, maternal presence. And now, prompted by August, Lily seems to be turning to the natural world itself--the world of bees, hives, etc.--for the sense of comfort and peace she was once looking for in a biological mother. The queen bee might also represent the ritual and ceremony that unites the Daughters--a group of women who come from many different walks of life. Lily has come to see how the statue of Our Lady of Chains unites the Daughters, much as the queen bee unites her bees. Thus, August seems to be suggesting that Mary herself is the "mother of thousands," and is strong and loving enough to take care of Lily too.

Have you ever written a letter you knew you could never mail but you needed to write it anyway?

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Lily Owens writes a long letter to her father, T. Ray Owens. Lily has no intention of sending this letter; her reason for writing it is more complicated. Lily wants to write a letter to her father in order to purge herself of some of the anxiety and hatred she feels for T. Ray. She thinks that by "externalizing" these feelings--i.e., writing them down on a page--she can gain some control over them, and hopefully escape them over time.

The notion that one can escape or sort through one's feelings by writing them down is a common theme in literature, and at various points in the novel Lily proves that such an escape is possible. Lily's decision to write a letter to her father anticipates the climactic scene of the novel, in which she purges herself of her guilt by means of another form of communication: direct confession.

Chapter 9 Quotes

Outside, the night sky was moving over us. I was aware of it, aware of the way Clayton had said he seemed all right, as if we all understood he wasn’t but would pretend otherwise. August closed her eyes, used her fingers to smooth out the skin on her forehead. I saw a shiny film on her eyes—the beginning of tears. Looking at her eyes, I could see a fire inside them.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), August Boatwright , Zachary Taylor / Zach , Clayton Forrest
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Zachary Taylor is wrongfully arrested for supposedly fighting with a group of racist whites. August and Lily learn that Zach will be forced to spend the next five nights in jail--something that August finds infuriating.

The passage reminds us of the outrageous bigotry that the African American community faced in the 1960s. Although blacks had some legal protections, these protections were poorly enforced, with the result that teenagers like Zach could be sentenced to nearly a week in jail (or worse) for essentially no reason at all. Furthermore, the passage depicts August at her strongest and most maternal. Although August has no biological connection to Zach, she considers Zach her "family"--they've known one another for many years, and she cares about him deeply. August is a "mother" to many, like the Virgin Mary herself, and she clearly considers Zach to be one of her "children"—just as she does Lily.

Chapter 10 Quotes

But I will tell you this secret thing, which not one of them saw, not even August, the thing that brought me the most cause for gladness. It was how Sugar-Girl said what she did, like I was truly one of them. Not one person in the room said, Sugar-Girl, really, talking about white people like that and we have a white person present. They didn’t even think of me as being different.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), August Boatwright , Sugar Girl
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important scene, Lily depicts a meeting of the Daughters. The Daughters joke about banks being for "white people only." Although all of the Daughters are black, they seem not to notice that Lily is white—and therefore visibly "different" from the rest of them. In short, Lily is in on the joke, even though, on the surface of things, she should be the target of the joke.

It's important to notice that this observation only comes from Lily's perspective, however—it seems highly unlikely that the Daughters no longer consider Lily to be white, simply because she is now part of their community. This also highlights Kidd's sometimes problematic views on race—as if Lily can somehow "become black" simply by overcoming her own racism and spending a few weeks with some black women. Lily has certainly faced many struggles of her own, and has found mother-figures in black women, but this doesn't mean that she isn't still ignorant of the black experience. Yet the larger point of this scene is that Lily has found a community that embraces and cares for her, and she no longer feels like an outsider in the Boatwright home.

Chapter 11 Quotes

“I’m sorry for being so hard on you when you first got here…”

Related Characters: June Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, June Boatwright, August Boatwright's sister, apologizes to Lily for being mean to her when Lily first arrived. June immediately treated Lily with disdain when Lily arrived at the Boatwrights' home--and it was never entirely clear why June behaved this way. In part, Lily believed that June disliked her because she was white, and therefore a representative of the social group that oppresses June and her sisters.

It's important to keep in mind that just before this quotation, June has gotten engaged to her longtime admirer, Neil. By juxtaposing two important moments for June--her engagement and her apology--Kidd implies that the two moments are closely linked. In other words, it's suggested, June didn't hate Lily simply because of Lily's skin color; she hated Lily because of her own sadness and pain--she took out her feelings on the most convenient scapegoat available, Lily the runaway.

Chapter 12 Quotes

“It hurts, I know it does. Let it out. Just let it out.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Lily Owens
Page Number: 238
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Lily confesses her darkest secret to August Boatwright: she feels responsible for the death of her mother, Deborah. August seems to understand right away that it's very hard for Lily to discuss Deborah with anyone else--it's hard enough for Lily to even think about her mother. And yet August insists that it's important for Lily to try to talk about the issue; thus, she encourages Lily to "let it out."

The notion of "letting it out" is important to the novel as a whole. Characters feel a powerful sense of guilt, fear, or hatred--often, their only way of getting over their own feelings is to externalize them by sharing them with other people. In this quotation, then, August is asking Lily to cleanse herself of her guilt by talking about it with another person--August herself. One could say that the scene is a version of the Catholic confessional, with Lily the confessor and August the priest. As in Catholicism, there's inherent virtue in Lily's mere act of confessing; simply to summon the courage to talk about her sins is an important part of being forgiven for her sins.

Kneeling on the floor, unable to stop shuddering, I heard it plainly. It said, You are unlovable, Lily Owens. Unlovable. Who could love you? Who in this world could ever love you?

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker)
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

This quotation depicts Lily at her lowest point. She's been feeling guilt for causing the death of her mother for many years, but it's not until this point that guilt consumes her. Afraid that she's murdered a member of her own family--and shocked to learn that her mother ran out on her when Lily was only a baby--Lily jumps to the conclusion that she is unlovable: nobody could ever love a sinner like her.

There's a familiar theme in Christian works that at people's lowest point, they turn to God and find that he still loves and accepts them. In this quotation, we see Lily consumed by the belief that nobody, not even God, can muster compassion for her. From a reader's perspective, however, it's clear that Lily is wrong: on the contrary, Lily is surrounded by people who love her deeply, in spite of her sins. Perhaps it's important for Lily to reach a "rock bottom" point here: alone, angry, and self-hating, she has nowhere to go but up.

“Every person on the face of the earth makes mistakes, Lily. Every last one. We’re all so human. Your mother made a terrible mistake, but she tried to fix it.”

Related Characters: August Boatwright (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of Chapter 12, Lily learns that her mother, Deborah, tried to run out on Lily when Lily was only a baby. Lily is at first angry with herself--she believes that she's unlovable. Then, Lily becomes angry with her mother: she's furious that a member of her own family could treat her so badly. August tries to encourage Lily to forgive her mother for her mistakes, pointing out that everybody makes mistakes.

As simple as August's words may be, they're true--there's no such thing as a perfect human being. By the same token, there's no point in Lily continuing to be angry with her mother. Just as her mother tried to undo her sins by returning to take Lily with her, Lily should move past her anger and forgive Deborah for the "mistake" she made.

Chapter 14 Quotes

In a weird way I must have loved my little collection of hurts and wounds. They provided me with some real nice sympathy, with the feeling I was exceptional. I was the girl abandoned by her mother. I was the girl who kneeled on grits. What a special case I was.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens , T. Ray Owens
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lily thinks about her mother, Deborah, and her father, T. Ray. She also considers the way her feelings have changed with regard to her parents. Lily comes to the surprising conclusion that she partly enjoyed her own guilt and suffering--after a certain point, she came to relish feeling sorry for herself, because doing so made her feel special.

Lily's epiphany suggests that her pain and guilt regarding her parents is mostly self-imposed. Lily could feel happier if she really wanted to--but on some level she prefers to feel miserable about T. Ray hurting her and Deborah abandoning her. For Lily to realize that her pain is self-imposed is, by definition, the first step in escaping her own pain.

Drifting off to sleep, I thought about her. How nobody is perfect. How you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel reaches a conclusion, Lily seems to have reached peace with her parents. Although Lily is now fully aware that Deborah abandoned her when she was only a baby, she seems to have forgiven Deborah for her negligence, as August encouraged her to do. In the quotation, Lily is "sleeping easy"--a sign that she's moved past her own feelings of resentment and found inner peace. Lily echoes the advice August offered her in the previous chapter: "Nobody is perfect." Instead of choosing to be angry with Deborah for the rest of her life, Lily accepts that Deborah made a horrible mistake--abandoning her only child. By accepting the truth, Lily is refusing to allow Deborah's sin to cause any more damage than it already has: Lily accepts her mother's actions with grace, and forgives her.

He stood over me. “Deborah,” I heard him mumble. “You’re not leaving me again.” His eyes looked frantic, scared. I wondered if I’d heard him right.

Related Characters: Lily Owens (speaker), T. Ray Owens (speaker), Deborah Fontanel Owens
Page Number: 294
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, T. Ray arrives at the Boatwrights' house and tries to forcibly take his daughter, Lily, back to his home, miles away. As T. Ray and Lily wrestle with each other, he speaks Deborah's name and insists that she'll never leave him again. Lily is confused--T. Ray knows perfectly well that Deborah, his wife, is dead and gone.

As Lily comes to realize, T. Ray sees Deborah's "spirit" in Lily--he 's already been abandoned by his wife, and therefore can't stand to be abandoned by his daughter, too. Lily's abrupt departure from T. Ray's life (she ran away) has reminded T. Ray of the feelings of abandonment he had to deal with when Deborah walked out on him. He tracks down Lily and tries to drag her home in a desperate attempt to alleviate his own suffering.

Surprisingly, T. Ray comes across as a sympathetic character in this quotation. He's certainly not a kind, loving man, but he's clearly been going through a lot of sadness--perhaps his anger at Deborah's departure helps explain why he was always so mean to Lily (without excusing his actions). Moreover, T. Ray's behavior shows how dangerous sin can be. T. Ray has allowed Deborah's sin to twist him into a bitter old man. Lily, fortunately has now refused to allow the same thing to happen to her--instead of remaining angry with her mother, Lily forgives her. In an equal act of forgiveness, she forgives T. Ray for his own cruelty, too.

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