The Secret Life of Bees

August Boatwright Character Analysis

The head of the Boatwright house in Tiburon, South Carolina, August Boatwright is a strong, charismatic, and enormously wise woman. August raises bees and runs her own business selling honey and beeswax products, and she also acts as a surrogate mother to Lily Owens for much of the novel. Unbeknownst to Lily, August worked as a maid for Deborah Fontanel Owens years before, and considers it her duty to take care of Lily when she shows up in Tiburon. August teaches Lily important lessons about patience, love, and forgiveness. She also introduces Lily to the religion she practices with her sisters: an amalgam of Catholicism and African-American history. Although August Boatwright isn’t a dynamic character, her calm leadership is an important source of wisdom for Lily as she comes to terms with her family. August teaches Lily to forgive herself for her imperfections, and to forgive others, as well—a lesson that proves invaluable in Lily’s coming-of-age.

August Boatwright Quotes in The Secret Life of Bees

The The Secret Life of Bees quotes below are all either spoken by August Boatwright or refer to August 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Books edition of The Secret Life of Bees published in 2003.
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:

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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:

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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:

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“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:

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“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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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“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:

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August Boatwright Character Timeline in The Secret Life of Bees

The timeline below shows where the character August Boatwright appears in The Secret Life of Bees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...The storeowner explains that the seller of the honey jars is a black woman named August Boatwright, who lives in a house on Main Street. Outside, Lily tells Rosaleen that they... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Rosaleen and Lily walk toward August’s house. Lily stops at the post office to check if there are any Wanted posters... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Rosaleen and Lily have come to August Boatwright’s house. They watch a black woman, presumably August, walking outside the house and then... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
August Boatwright enters the room and greets Rosaleen and Lily. August notices that Rosaleen has been... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
In the afternoon, August takes Lily and Rosaleen to the “honey house,” where August makes and bottles her honey.... (full context)
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Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
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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... (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 of bliss: she’s free... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...June teaches English in a local black high school. One night, Lily overhears June and August talking about her: June says she knows Lily is lying about her dead parents. August... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...Mary—and prays. Lily is confused when the Boatwrights call the statue, “Our Lady of Chains.” August explains that she and her sisters have made their own religion, combining Catholicism with elements... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
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One evening, August tells Lily a story. In the story, a young nun decides to leave her convent... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
A week has passed since Lily and Rosaleen came to the Boatwrights’ house. That evening, August shows Lily how the queen bees lay their eggs. August “introduces” Lily to the queen... (full context)
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Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
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Lily asks August about the stone wall with the pieces of paper, and August explains that May pushes... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...black women dressed in bright yellow skirts. When the Daughters have arrived at the house, August begins the ceremony by praising “Our Lady of Chains.” She tells a long story about... (full context)
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Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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August continues with her story. The figure of the Virgin Mary inspired the slaves to break... (full context)
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Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
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...here at all. Suddenly, she feels herself going faint. She wakes up hours later in August’s bed, with a washcloth on her forehead. For the rest of the evening, the Boatwrights... (full context)
Chapter 7
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
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It’s July 13, and Zach, August’s assistant, has returned from his vacation. He introduces himself to Lily as Zachary Taylor. He’s... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
Because August is checking on hives at another farm, Zach and Lily proceed with making honey. Zach... (full context)
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Lily, August, and Zach soon settle into a routine. They spend the day extracting and mixing honey:... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
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August sends Zach and Lily out to harvest some beehives. Zach drives a honey cart along... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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Lily sees August reading a book outside. August asks Lily if she’s okay with the new sleeping arrangements.... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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Lily and August hear a fight on the other side of the house. Lily sees Neil arguing with... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...herself settling into the routine of life in the Boatwright house. She also learns that August makes a lot of money selling honey: enough money to buy a much nicer, bigger... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
One day, August tells Lily to glue images of the black Virgin Mary to the honey jars. As... (full context)
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Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
August tells Lily a secret. The black statue in her house isn’t really the Virgin Mary... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
August tells Lily more about her grandmother: she taught August how to take care of bees.... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
August continues to tell Lily about her life. She and June studied at a teachers’ college... (full context)
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Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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August and Lily go out to inspect the hives (just as Lily and Zach did a... (full context)
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In the afternoon, Lily and August return to the house for a late lunch. June and May are preparing a delicious... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...and asks her who she is. Lily says that she’s been working and sleeping at August’s house. The secretary finds this shocking, and Lily senses that she’ll be spreading this piece... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
...and invites Lily and Zach inside. He introduces himself to Lily, and tells her that August is a good friend of his. Then he tells Zach that he has an interesting... (full context)
Chapter 9
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Lily and August come back from the hives to eat lunch. After their meal, Rosaleen finds a hose... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession 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... (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... (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... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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...including Lily and Rosaleen. Lily is forced to tell Hazelwurst the same lie she told August: she’s an orphan trying to make it to Virginia. Hazelwurst accepts Lily’s story, though he... (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. August explains to Lily that the vigil will... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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...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 if... (full context)
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August takes Zach and Lily to “drape the hives”—cover them with a veil in honor to... (full context)
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On the second morning of the vigil, August finds that May left a suicide note underneath an oak tree. In the note addressed... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
After May is buried, August stops making honey, and she and June eat their meals alone in their rooms. Lily... (full context)
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Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
...when it’s over everyone goes to the parlor to pray to the Virgin Mary. Afterwards, August touches the statue and sighs, “Well that’s that.” (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
...house that night. That night in the honey house, Lily decides she’s going to show August the picture of her mother. (full context)
Chapter 12
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Lily sits in August’s room, waiting to ask her about Deborah. She’s only been here once before: this time,... (full context)
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August enters the room and finds Lily waiting for her. Lily reminds August that August wanted... (full context)
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August tries to tell Lily everything. Years ago, she says, she worked as a maid in... (full context)
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...Rosaleen went to jail for trying to register to vote. As she admits this to August, she begins crying again. Lily thinks to herself that she’s a bad person: a liar... (full context)
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August comforts Lily, telling her that everyone loves her—even June, who resented Deborah. Confused, Lily asks... (full context)
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August takes Lily outside for “a little breather.” Outside, Lily gives August the “missing piece” of... (full context)
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August explains her relationship with Deborah. She worked for Deborah’s mother beginning in 1931. Deborah had... (full context)
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When August moved to South Carolina to work as a teacher, August explains, Deborah cried like a... (full context)
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August tells Lily that Deborah visited her in Tiburon shortly before her death. Deborah told August... (full context)
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Lily, overwhelmed by everything she’s learned, goes to bed. August kisses her forehead and tells her, “We’re all so human. Your mother made a terrible... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...and a Band-Aid. As Rosaleen treats the wound, Lily tells her what she’s learned about August and Deborah. Rosaleen nods—she didn’t know for sure that Deborah was leaving the family on... (full context)
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...food for the second day of the Assumption celebration. At the Daughters’ potluck, Lily asks August to tell Zach about Deborah as soon as she can—August agrees. For the rest of... (full context)
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...each woman covers her hands in the honey and then smears the statue with it. August explains that honey is a preservative—by covering the statue with it, the Daughters are symbolically... (full context)
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Later, August comes to Lily’s room with the blue hat she’s promised Lily. She also gives Lily... (full context)
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The final item August gives Lily is a photograph of Lily—as a baby—with Deborah. Lily is awestruck by this... (full context)
Chapter 14
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
...10. It occurs to Lily that she needs to leave Tiburon soon. She’s confessed to August that she’s a runaway, and she knows August is expecting her to move on soon.... (full context)
Race, America, and the 1960s Theme Icon
Lily calls Zach. Zach tells her that August has told him about Lily’s past, and he says he’s sorry for everything. Lily admits... (full context)
Mothers and Daughters Theme Icon
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Lying, Storytelling, and Confession Theme Icon
Ceremony and Ritual Theme Icon
The next day, Lily goes to meet August by the beehives. August shows Lily a beehive that’s missing a queen bee. As they... (full context)
Religion, Guilt, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...it’s time to go home, but Lily refuses to leave—she explains that she’s staying with August Boatwright, a “good woman.” Right on cue, August enters the room, followed by the Daughters... (full context)