The Secret Life of Bees

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The Stone Wall Symbol Analysis

The Stone Wall Symbol Icon

Whenever May Boatwright hears about something tragic in the world, she writes it down on a piece of paper and slips the paper into the cracks of a stone wall near her house. It’s clear that the stone wall symbolizes the slow, sad accumulation of pain in May’s mind, and indeed the potential for suffering to build up in anyone’s psychology. Since most of the tragedies May responds to are race-related (the imprisonment of Zach, for example), the stone wall also takes on a more specific symbolic meaning: it stands for the horrors of the African-American experience in America.

The Stone Wall Quotes in The Secret Life of Bees

The The Secret Life of Bees quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Stone Wall. 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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The Stone Wall Symbol Timeline in The Secret Life of Bees

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Stone Wall 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
The next morning, Lily goes for a walk around August’s house. She finds a stone wall with hundreds of small bits of paper sticking in the cracks. Lily takes one of... (full context)
Chapter 5
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Lily asks August about the stone wall with the pieces of paper, and August explains that May pushes a piece of paper... (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
...of paper. She writes her mother’s name on the paper and slips it into the stone wall . Lily wonders what she should do next, and decides to find out as much... (full context)
Chapter 6
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...be living together. May seems especially sad about Neil. Lily suggests she go to the stone wall , and May does so. (full context)
Chapter 7
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...this, writes, “June and Neil” on a piece of paper and slips it in the stone wall . (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
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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
...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.... (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 the others go out... (full context)