The Secret Life of Bees Study Guide Chapter 1

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The Secret Life of Bees Study Guide



Chapter 1

  1. In the exposition of the story, the narrator describes having bees in her room and describes being cared for by a woman named Rosaleen since her mother died. She also describes how miserable she is with her father, whom she calls T. Ray.

  2. The narrator of the story is a fourteen-year-old girl named Lily.

  3. The narrator makes an allusion about the bees on page 2. She alludes to the story of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, being visited by the angel Gabriel. She compares the bees in her room to the visitation of the angel. She hints (foreshadows) that the presence of the bees signals things about to happen.

  4. Lily says that the bees could have stung her until she died, and it would not have been the worst thing to happen. We learn that Lily appears to be a very unhappy girl.

  5. Lily says that in Paradise she would ask her mother to forgive her, and her mother would tell her she was not to blame for ten thousand years. Then, for the next ten thousand years, her mother would fix her hair.

  6. Lily describes her mother’s death on pages 6 – 8. She implies that she accidentally shot her mother with the gun she picked up.

  7. Lily “smell[s] every perfume bottle they had” (p. 6) because she remembers the scent of her mother, and she wants to find it.

  8. Lily picks scabs and feels that she is “impersonating a girl” because the other girls whisper about her. She also worries about how she looks, and what she does to cause the whispers. She feels she is trying to act like a girl, but she does not really know how to be one.
  9. When Rosaleen stands up to T. Ray about the chick, Lily says, “his boots whispered uncle all the way down the hall.” (p. 12) To say “uncle” is to give up. She means T. Ray gave up the fight with Rosaleen. This is an example of personification.


  10. Lily’s teacher tells Lily that she is too intelligent for beauty school and that Lily should be a professor or writer.

  11. T. Rays tells Lily that he wants her to hear about her mother from him before she starts school. He says he wants her to hear “it” from him, not from “people out there talking.”

  12. Lily alludes to Mr. Khrushchev and fallout shelters. People were afraid at that time that the Communists in Russia would drop atomic bombs. Lily thinks a bomb may have been dropped because Rosaleen has stayed late to watch TV, and Lily has never seen her so interested in the news.

  13. What has actually claimed Rosaleen’s attention on the TV is that President Johnson has signed the Civil Rights Act.

  14. T. Ray punishes Lily by making her kneel for long periods of time on Martha White grits.

  15. On page 26, Lily says that she “understood that a new rooftop would do wonders” for her. She means that getting away from T. Ray would make her life better.

  16. Rosaleen plans to register to vote.

  17. Lily has captured a jar of bees to prove to T. Ray that there are bees behind the wall in her room.

  18. The day that Rosaleen is going to register to vote is also the Fourth of July and Lily’s birthday.

  19. Lily hints at things to come. The sentence, “Later I would remember that, how she set out, a marked woman from the beginning,“ (p. 28) foreshadows the action.

  20. Rosaleen steals paper fans from the church because she and Lily are hot.

  21. Lily says that Rosaleen has “less sense that I’d dreamed” (p. 31) because Rosaleen tells the obviously hostile men in town that she is going to register to vote.
  22. Rosaleen pours the juice from her snuff jug on their shoes, which causes the mean to beat her.


  23. Lily and Rosaleen are arrested for “assault, theft, and disturbing the peace.” (p. 33)

  24. Similes from this chapter: “A body that sloped out from her neck like a pup tent” (p. 2); “Her breath floating down to me like a tiny parachute” (p. 7); “like she was bits and pieces of insulation” (p. 24); “like they were spectators at a parade and we were the prize float” (p. 32); “Swinging the men like pocketbooks on her arms” (p. 32)

  25. This chapter began with a quote about the missing queen. Lily’s mother is the queen, the “unifying force” missing from her family.


Chapter 2

  1. Lily says to Rosaleen, “What can they do to you with a policeman right here?” (p. 35) Immediately afterward, the man hits Rosaleen with his flashlight.

  2. Lily says she was “nearly [done] in” by the look on Rosaleen’s face when Lily had to leave her in the jail cell alone.

  3. The conversation between Lily and T. Ray on pages 37 – 39 reveal two things: (1) T. Ray says that he believes Rosaleen could very possibly be killed by the white man she angered; and (2) T. Ray says that Lily’s mother did not care about Lily, had already left her and the day Deborah died, the mother had come back only to get her things.

  4. Lily believes that she will never recover from T. Ray’s claim that Deborah left her behind, and that it will “sink [her] forever” (p. 40)

  5. Lily alludes to Thomas Edison when she talks about her father’s ability to think of punishments. She means that T. Ray is as creative with punishments as Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, was creative with new technology.
  6. The metaphor “Lily Melissa Owens, your jar is open” means that something inside Lily is telling her that she is free to leave.


  7. Lily goes to Tiburon because she has a picture of a black Mary that was her mother’s, and on the back of the picture it says “Tiburon, South Carolina.” (p. 43)



  1. The quote “Pious people have always gotten on my nerves” (p. 44) means that Lily is not religious in a traditional way, and she does not unthinkingly believe whatever people in authority tell her. It is also indicative of the author’s religious beliefs and sense of humor.

  2. The hospital’s description on page 45 is more evidence that Sylvan is segregated and that whites get better treatment than blacks, because the white wing has air conditioners, but the black wing does not.

  3. Lily is angry at Rosaleen because she feels Rosaleen should have apologized. Lily is afraid that T. Ray is right, and the men will come back to kill Rosaleen.

  4. Lily thinks that she belongs in a reform school or juvenile detention because she has been lying to the police in order to get Rosaleen out of police custody.

  5. For supper, Rosaleen and Lily eat two cantaloupes that a farmer gave them.

  6. On page 52, Rosaleen says, “I guess I can go to my grave now, because I’ve seen it all.” Seeing the picture of the black Virgin Mary astonishes Rosaleen, and she does not think

  7. Rosaleen gets angry with Lily because she thought that Lily had run away on Rosaleen’s account only. Now she knows that Lily was also running because of what T. Ray said about her mother.

  8. Lily calls Rosaleen “dumb” (p. 54) because she antagonized the white men and she was dumber for not apologizing.
  9. The description of Rosaleen on page 55 and Lily’s thought “Mother, forgive” indicate that Lily thinks of Rosaleen as a second mother.


  10. Lily’s ability to lie is important because it has kept her and Rosaleen safe so far, and has been a necessary survival tactic for Lily in her life with T. Ray. However, her lying also makes her feel guilty and prevents her from feeling positive about herself.

  11. Similes from this chapter: “ears like little dried apricots” (p. 34); “it frightened me, as though I’d been struck by a car” (p. 40); “like a bull wanting to gore something” (p. 42); her tongue curled out like a misplaced comma” (p. 48); “laying into each word like it was sweet potatoes on her tongue” (p. 49); “like women finding out Jesus had a twin sister” (p. 52); “she looked like a boulder shaped by five hundred years of storms” (p. 54); “like it was biscuit dough” (p. 55).

  12. The quote at the beginning of the chapter tells of the whole bee colony moving. It was probably chosen because Rosaleen and Lily have moved to a new colony.


Chapter 3

  1. Lily alludes to Thoreau’s Walden Pond, in which Henry David Thoreau chose to live alone, as simply as he could. This appeals to Lily because she loves the idea of living in a garden without T. Ray.

  2. Lily describes her church’s attitude toward Catholics. Lily’s independent spirit is again revealed by her ability to disregard what her elders have told her. Her confession that it “secretly thrilled” her to think of her mother “mixed up” with Catholics shows that she is somewhat enjoying her rebellion. The author may have been showing that the narrow mindedness of the people toward Catholics parallels their prejudice towards blacks.
  3. Rosaleen’s odd dream is significant because it has a similarity to the Biblical scene is which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. The dream could also mean that Rosaleen is sure the Reverend King would appreciate that she stood up for her rights. Its religious overtones and the blood red color suggest that Rosaleen suspects the Reverend King will die, as did Jesus shortly after the Last Supper. It could also be considered another example of the author’s sense of humor when she combines the images of death and “red hots.”


  4. Lily’s question and Rosaleen’s answer about the Civil Rights Act reveals that although Rosaleen often seems childlike, she is far from naïve and she understands that racism will not disappear overnight because of a new law. Although Lily often seems to be quicker thinking than Rosaleen, she is still a child and naïve about the world.

  5. Lily looks to the crop duster for a sign because she has no idea where to go or what to do next, and she is looking for guidance.

  6. Lily explains her presence in town by lying to the storekeeper, telling him that she is visiting her grandmother.

  7. Lily steals snuff for Rosaleen. She feels Rosaleen has suffered enough and should not have to endure more.

  8. Lily realizes “there is nothing but mystery in the world…” (p. 63) because the sign that Lily was hoping for has appeared when she least expected it.

  9. Rosaleen says Lily’s life has “gone straight to hell” (p. 64) because Lily stole the snuff. Rosaleen does not seem to mean it at all.

  10. Lily looks for wanted posters and news stories about Rosaleen’s jailbreak. It is funny about her thanking God for the “poor news reporting” when she does not find any news about them because she is being naïve again to think that a runaway girl and a black woman would be newsworthy.

  11. The bee quote at the start of the chapter talks about how to find the queen. This quote is appropriate because Lily has begun her search for her mother, the missing queen bee.


Chapter 4

  1. Lily believes her “body knows things.” (p. 69) She believes that her body knows the pink house was somehow important to her mother.


  1. Lily’s thought about the black Mary, “…she could straighten you out if necessary,” is both wonderful and terrifying. Lily feels both uplifted and terrified by the statue, because it makes her feel both sinful and loved.


  2. May begins to sing “Oh! Susanna” because she gets upset when she begins to talk about her sister April, who died.

  3. Rosaleen’s behavior when she talked about the Civil Rights Act in Chapter 3 seemed very mature, but in walking across the lawn, Lily says she is child-like as she gathers rainwater in her pie pan and throws it out.

  4. Lily says is the secret of a good lie is to not overly explain, throw in one good detail, and keep the stories straight.

  5. Lily says “…my skin had never felt so white to me” (p. 78) because she had never lived with black people before. The racism is so prevalent in the South that it seems strange to Lily to “eat off their dishes” and lie on “their sheets.” It is obvious she feels like a foreigner.

  6. May’s piece of paper in her wailing wall which says, “Birmingham, Sept. 15, four little angels dead” is referring to four children who died in a church in Birmingham during the racial violence of the 1900s.

  7. The quote at the beginning of the chapter mentions family units that are comprised of a mother and daughters. Lily is now living in a house of women; they are like a family to her.


Chapter 5

  1. May begin to sing “Oh! Susanna” again when she thinks about someone beating up on Rosaleen.

  2. The “honey song” says “everything” about living in the pink house (p. 83) because it’s happy, silly, and about honey. It implies that honey is better than heaven, and Lily says that in the pink house, they live for honey.

  3. August delights Lily when she says to Lily, “You’re a marvel” when Lily learns very quickly how to do everything in the honey house.
  4. Rosaleen says May is a “bona fide candidate for the nuthouse” (p. 85) because May has a sensitive soul. Any unpleasant subject causes her to get upset, and really unhappy things cause her extreme distress. She also has a few other quirks, like a need for bananas.


  5. Lily describes June as playing the cello, smiling very little, and hating having Lily live with them.

  6. When June says that Lily is white, Lily is amazed that her skin color makes a difference to June. She feels indignant, because she does not think her color should matter to June. She alludes to Jesus driving the moneychangers out of the temple, which he did because the moneychangers were doing something that was so very wrong. Lily feels that June’s attitude is wrong—wrong in a sinful way.

  7. Lily thinks there is no difference between white and black under the skin. The way she comes to this conclusion—while urinating—is a funny contrast between the seriousness of the subject and Lily’s way of expressing it: “Piss was piss.” (p. 88)

  8. Lily feels “white and self-conscious” when they are watching TV because they are watching a news report of what angry, white people have done to black people. (p. 89)

  9. Lily thinks August told her the story of Beatrix the nun because August wants her to know that she will need to go home one day, but that Mary is standing in for her in the meantime. Mary will help her when Lily has to go back.

  10. According to August, the most important bee yard rule is to “send the bees love”. (p. 93)

  11. Lily is happy to have made August laugh because Lily wants August to love her and her stay.

  12. Lily wonders about May’s sensitivity: “Would it divide the hurt in two, make it lighter to bear, the way feeling someone’s joy seemed to double it?” (p. 95). Lily has been carrying around a heavy load for a long time. She would like to tell someone about it, but she is afraid to.

  13. In this chapter we learn that April shot herself.
  14. Lily says the she knew the world was not fair long before she turned eleven. Lily grew up without a mother, and with an abusive father. Comparing her life to that of other girls, hers must have seemed very unfair.


  15. The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem is the place Jews go to mourn. The “wailing wall” in Tiburon is the wall May made for herself to help her bear her suffering.

  16. Rosaleen has been like a mother to Lily since Lily’s mother died. Rosaleen is now jealous because Lily is spending a lot of time with and obviously growing fond of August.

  17. Lily writes her mother’s name on a piece of paper and puts it in the wailing wall.

  18. In the quote at the beginning of the chapter, it points out that the bees live in darkness. Lily believes that her mother was at the pink house, but Lily is too afraid to ask about her mother. Lily is also afraid that August will send her away and afraid of being wrong. Lily is afraid, most of all, to find out that her mother really did leave her as T. Ray said. Lily is living in the darkness of not knowing until she has the courage to get it all out in the open.


Chapter 6

  1. June doesn’t want to get married because she was supposed to get married long ago, but the man “didn’t show up for the wedding.” (p. 103) She swore she would never try to get married again.

  2. The number one question asked in South Carolina is “Where do you come from?” It is asked because people want to make connections with new people through family and friends they have in common.

  3. The “Daughters of Mary” are the women who share worship services in the pink house, praying before “Our Lady of Chains.”



  1. August reads the Bible verses attributed to Mary. These verses especially appropriate for black people because they talk about the poor being raised up and the mighty being put down. These verses are bound to appeal to people who had been slaves in the past, and who are now discriminated against.
  2. “Our Lady of Chains” got her name because the slave master took the statue of Mary away from the slaves and chained her up, but every time he did so, she appeared back in the slave quarters unchained.


  3. Lily stops with her hand outstretched to touch Mary when June stops playing the cello. Lily looks around and realizes once again that she is white, and they are black; therefore, Lily does not touch Mary’s heart.

  4. According to the book, “you can never underestimate the power of cutthroat competition.” (p. 113) Russia and the US were both determined to be supreme in the world, and Lily is implying that each county would do anything to beat the other in anything.

  5. August is sad at the thought of a rocket landing on the moon because the moon has always been a mystery. Now, she says, the moon will just be “one more big science project.” (p. 114)

  6. The quote at the beginning of the chapter says the queen produces something to attract the workers. The queen may be seen as August or as “Our Lady of Chains.” Both produce hope and inspiration, and they attract all of the “Daughters of Mary” and Lily.


Chapter 7


  1. “At my school they made fun of colored people’s lips and noses. I myself had laughed at these jokes, hoping to fit in.” (p. 116) This passage is disturbing, because Lily laughed at people for their looks, but it is not surprising because Lily explained earlier how badly she wanted to fit in. However, Lily has now realized the error of her ways.

  2. Lily thinks she is headed for beauty school now because she is in so much trouble for breaking Rosaleen out of jail and running away that she will never be able to go to a good college.

  3. June may still be so resentful of Lily because they will get in trouble for harboring a runaway white girl. She may feel that blacks and whites should not mix at all. She may be jealous of the attention August is giving to Lily.
  4. Zach gets upset when Lily suggests he could be a professional player. He does not want to play football, and he is tired of white people assuming that because he is black, he will only get ahead through sports.


  5. Zach says: “You gotta imagine what’s never been.” (p. 121) He means that in order for new things to happen, you have to be able to imagine events that no one has ever thought of before.

  6. Lily feels she needs to touch the Black Madonna’s heart before she can tell August the truth about herself. She is afraid August will say she has never known Deborah. She is also afraid of being sent away.

  7. When Lily is riding with Zach, she is shocked to imagine herself sleeping with Zach and lying in his arms. She is so shocked because she thought that a white person could never be attracted to a black person.

  8. “Danger, I realized, was a thing you got used to.” (p. 126) When Lily says this, she is in the midst of a swarm of bees and in danger of being stung. She also wants to kiss a black boy, which could be dangerous for her in several ways.

  9. Lily says she’s crying for Zach. She may have realized that there is no way she and Zach can have a relationship.

  10. Zach tells her to go back to her side of the truck because he seems to be afraid someone will see him hugging a white girl.

  11. Rosaleen is now going to sleep in May’s room instead of the honey house with Lily.

  12. When August tells Lily that she is reading a book about girl whose mother died, Lily thinks for a minute that August might know who she is.

  13. Neil and June argue about getting married.

  14. Lily says that impossibility “is a great big log thrown on the fires of love.” This metaphor means that the fact that she and Zach cannot have a relationship does not stop her from imagining it; instead, it seems to make her dream about him even more.

  15. Zach gives Lily a notebook to write in.
  16. “…[T]here are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you.” (p. 135) Zach is telling the literal truth. Black people have been killed in the South for daring to associate with white women. For example, the character Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird or the real-life Emmitt Till.


  17. The quote at the beginning of the chapter is significant because while most of Lily’s thoughts revolve around her desires for Zach, any possible relationship seems doomed to failure because of their races.


Chapter 8

  1. During her special month, August wanted most to stay up late reading books.

  2. Lily wants to tell the bees to take some time off.

  3. Lily kept the Coca-Cola bottle from Massachusetts because it was a “tribute to how far something can go in life.” (p. 139)

  4. August tells Lily about the thirty-two words for love in the Eskimo language because she is pointing out that English has only one word for love, even though there are many kinds of love.

  5. August says, “You see, everybody needs a God who looks like them, Lily.” (p. 141) It’s a little ironic for her to say this because Lily is a white girl, but she has learned to love the black Madonna. She also feels that it will help her to touch the black Madonna’s heart.

  6. August says, “I swear, if you listen to my chest with a stethoscope, what you’d hear is that story going on and on in my Big Mama’s voice.” (p. 142). August lives always with the pride and hope of the story of Our Lady of Chains, and the love of her grandmother telling the story.

  7. Lily has never been able to forgive herself for accidentally shooting her mother. She feels stuck in that moment. August has a story full of love and courage in her heart, while Lily is burdened with a story of guilt and tragedy.
  8. Big Mama says that women (lady beekeepers) have a “special ability built into them to love creatures that sting” like children and husbands (p. 143) It reveals that Big Mama did not always find her husband or her children easy to love. It also reveals that she has a sense of humor.


  9. August describes Big Mama’s story of hearing the bees sing on Christmas Eve. August does not mean the story literally. She says that “…you can listen to a hive and hear the Christmas story somewhere inside yourself.” Paying attention to the secret life of bees can help a person to “hear silent things on the other side of the everyday world that nobody else can.” (p. 144)

  10. When August could not get a teaching job, she became a housekeeper for a white family, but she says of June “you wouldn’t catch her keeping house for white people.” (p. 145) June probably resents all white people for giving black people only menial jobs and for the segregation which made it difficult for black professionals to get jobs in their fields. She may also feel that August is once more “keeping house” for a white person, since Lily is living with them.

  11. August chose not to get married because she “loved [her] freedom more” than any man who would marry her (p. 146)

  12. “The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.” (p. 147) August’s statement applies to Lily because Lily will have to make some important choices soon. She cannot keep her secret and hide from her father much longer. In September, when school starts, she will have to be enrolled somewhere.

  13. Lily states, “…I loved the idea of bees having a secret life, just like the one I was living.” (p. 148) The major difference between the secret life of bees and the secret life of Lily is that for the bees, the secret life is natural. For Lily, it is not, and it will have to end.

  14. When Lily lets the bees cover her, she goes into a sort of trance and she wonders how she can live with the memory of her mother’s death. She feels that the bees are comforting her.
  15. Lily makes a Biblical allusion when the bees cover her. Lily thinks that when the bees first came to her in Sylvan, they were like one of the plagues of Egypt telling T. Ray to let his daughter go.


  16. Lily notices that the black Mary label she had stuck on herself is coming “unglued.” (p. 152) It is a metaphor for Lily’s situation because her situation at the pink house will not “stick” much longer.

  17. May wants to celebrate because it’s been five days since she needed to go to the wailing wall.

  18. The people in town stirred up about a rumor that a movie star, Jack Palance, and a “colored woman” will try to integrate the all-white section of the movie theater.

  19. Lily is sick of “skin pigment” (p. 155) because she has had to think about it so much, both because she has been living with black women, and because of the Civil Rights Act causing so much violence in the South. She is also bothered by the disparities betweens blacks and whites.

  20. August knocks over her tea because she seems to be worried by the thought of Lily going out with Zach.

  21. While Mr. Forrest and Zach are out of the room, Lily places a collect call to her father.

  22. Lily asks T. Ray what her favorite color is because she is trying to determine if he really knows anything at all about her.

  23. Lily says the magic words that will get her into and out of places easily is “female trouble.” (p. 161)

  24. Lily writes a letter to her father because she has things she needs to say to him that she knows she will never actually say out loud. She wants to get the words out somehow, but she feels guilty for thinking them after she finishes the letter, so she tears it up.

  25. At the end of chapter 8, Lily finally touches the black Mary’s heart.
  26. The quote at the beginning of the chapter explains Lily’s fear about telling August the truth. Lily feels a deep need for the companionship of the pink house. She is terrified of being sent away. She fears finding out that August has never known her mother, and her time at the pink house coming to an end. Lily prays to the black Mary that she will be able to stay.



Chapter 9

  1. August wakes Lily on July 28th and says they must water the bees.

  2. Lily thinks August turns off the radio because the broadcast was about problems in the world and the land on the moon (of which August has already said she doesn’t approve). Lily figures August has had enough bad news. “Enough was enough. You cannot fix the whole world.” (p. 166)

  3. “After you get stung, you can’t get unstung no matter how much you whine about it.” (p. 167) Lily got “stung” very early in life by her mother’s death. She knows she cannot undo that, no matter how much she wants to. It reveals Lily’s courage and practicality.

  4. On this sweltering day, May and Rosaleen turn the sprinkler on each other, and then on Lily and August.

  5. The simile that Lily uses to explain why she keeps the hose turned on June, even though June is plainly angry is “I was seeing myself as the fire department and June as the raging inferno.”

  6. Rosaleen’s wisdom ends the hostilities because she implies that June and Lily are like fighting dogs.

  7. June astonishes Lily by hugging her.

  8. Lily says “the real troubles in life happen” (p. 170) when “those hidden doors [in your head] stay closed for too long.” In other words, when you do not let your secret thoughts through to your conscious self. She means that there are things going on in our subconscious minds that we all need to acknowledge once in a while.

  9. Lily says her mother is behind her hidden doors.

  10. Lily says she cannot stop wearing her “necklace of lies.” (p. 171)
  11. May is enticing roaches to leave the house in the same strange way that T. Ray had told Lily her mother used to do.


  12. After May acknowledges that she knew Lily’s mother, she begins to sing “Oh! Susanna” and goes out to her wailing wall.

  13. Lily dreams of her mother as a roach “with her worst nature exposed” (p. 175) Deborah’s worst nature would be exposed if Lily were to learn that T. Ray had been telling the truth and that her mother really did abandon her.

  14. Lily uses a simile when she describes her life at this point as being “stranded out on the high dive, about to leap into unknown waters.” (p. 175) She is afraid she will drown in what she learns about her mother.

  15. Lily been about to tell August the truth about herself when Zach talks her into going with him.

  16. When the boy provokes the white man, Lily says she sees a look on his face she had seen on T. Ray’s “a thousand times.” (p. 178) She says “it is the sort of look conjured from power without benefit of love…”

  17. August, on page 147, says, “The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.” Zach has chosen “to stand there and be one of them.” (p. 179). It is obviously a choice that matters to him, since he must know the consequences will be serious

  18. The metaphor that Lily uses to describe August’s eyes is “a hearth fire you could depend on…” (p. 181)

  19. Rosaleen is the “fire that burns the house down, if necessary, to clean up the mess inside it.” (p. 182)

  20. When they finally get to see Zach, August talks about how she searched out a swarm of bees. Lily surmises that August is really telling Zach that she will not rest until he is home.

  21. Lily says everyone wants “someone to see the hurt done to them and set it down like it matters.” (p. 185)

  22. There is another example of foreshadowing on page 185: “To this day August and June wonder how our lives would have been different if one of them had answered the phone instead of May.” (p. 185) The author may warn the reader because it adds suspense and unpredictability to the mystery of what the outcome of the phone call would be.


  23. Lily thinks the rocks should be thanked for helping May to deal with the difficult times in her life.

  24. The quote at the beginning of the chapter has to do with communication. Different messages are sent in this chapter. June lets Lily know she cares for her. May tells Lily that she knew Deborah. Zach acts so that everyone knows what kind of person he is. August lets Zach know she will not give up on him, May is not told about Zach at first, but she later finds out and is devastated by the message.


Chapter 10

  1. When they are searching for May, Lily begins to say the “Hail Mary” prayer. Lily does not realize she was saying it, and she is not sure whether she’s saying it as a prayer or to “push down the fear.” (p. 191)

  2. They find May drowned in the river.

  3. Lily compares finding May’s body to the finding of the black Mary in August’s story.

  4. Interpret this sentence: “This had been the thing they’d been waiting for half their lives without even realizing it.” (p. 194) Ever since May’s sister committed suicide, June and August must have been subconsciously expecting that May would someday do the same thing.

  5. The policeman asks Lily so many questions because he cannot understand why Lily is living with black women. He thinks it is unnatural for her to be with them.
  6. Lily prays for somebody to stop her because she is breaking one of her lying rules, and she is ashamed of telling so many lies.


  7. Lily wants never to forget the silly side of May which caused her to put socks on the bathtub feet.

  8. A vigil is a way of keeping the dead company until they are buried. August says they are going to hold one because it will help the living say goodbye and help the dead to move on.

  9. Lily says that it “would be selfish to pour this into her cup.” (p. 201) She means that she still cannot tell August about Deborah because August is already overwhelmed with grieving for May.

  10. Lily says June’s music helps the vigil-keepers because it “made [them] believe death was nothing but a doorway.” (p. 201)

  11. Lily prays that May will talk to Deborah and ask for a sign for Lily to show her that her mother loves her.

  12. Lily sees the change in Zach when she says, “…something I couldn’t put my finger on had evaporated from his face.” (p. 203)

  13. Interpret Lily’s description of blame: “…the blame would find a way to stick to them. That’s how blame was.” (p. 204) August talks about all the ways May’s death could have been prevented, but that it was ultimately May’s choice. Lily knows that even though everyone knows it was May’s choice, they will still feel guilty that they had not stopped her somehow.

  14. August and Zach and Lily cover the hives with black drapes. August says that doing so reminds them that life and death are a cycle.

  15. The secret thing which causes Lily’s gladness is when Sugar-Girl talked about white people without acknowledging that Lily is white.

  16. Lily thinks it is “a better plan” for blacks and whites to get along if people were just colorless. It is somewhat contradictory to her next observation that black women are “special,” like “hidden royalty.” (p. 209)

  17. August says May meant for June to marry Neil when she said, “Don’t mess it up” (p. 210)


  18. Lily says is the “oldest sound” (p. 213) is the bee hum of “souls flying away.”




  1. The quote at the beginning of the chapter is another example of the author foreshadowing a sad part of the book. Some people might object to this because they prefer to have a plot unfold without any hints about what is to come.


Chapter 11

  1. Lily feels she cannot tell August about herself now that May’s funeral is over because August is still mourning, and Lily does not want to interrupt her.

  2. Lily is walking in the woods, counting how long it takes her to see a bird land in a tree because she is looking for another sign.

  3. June says the wind rearranges her thoughts for her when she goes out with Neil.

  4. Lily starts to suggest that if she was a black girl they could be together. Zach tells Lily they have to think about changing the world instead of changing their skin color.

  5. Zach has changed because he is no longer living in the moment with Lily. He is paying attention to the news about the civil rights violence. Zach is “heated, charged, angry.” (p. 216)

  6. August choose to have Coca-cola with salted peanuts for dessert because Lily told her that she loves them.

  7. August’s putting May’s suicide note into a deep crevice in the black Mary is August’s way of ending the mourning period and giving away the guild and the “what ifs” about May’s death, so that they all can go on with their lives—as May had instructed them to do.
  8. Lily has decided to tell August the truth, which causes her to fear ending up in a prison camps in the Everglades where there would be alligators. Lily is too smart to really believe in this outcome but it is probably symbolic to her of the more likely alternative of living with T. Ray (the alligator) and suffocating in his anger.


  9. Lily’s revelation to August is postponed yet again because the Daughters of Mary are going to celebrate Mary Day.

  10. June finally agree to marry Neil.

  11. The Mary Day preparations include: Lily cutting up streamers and hanging them from the trees, making a garland of flowers, putting Christmas lights around the bushes, setting up card tables, and setting up the candles. Zach mowed the lawn and hoed the weeds. The Daughters fixed lots of food.

  12. The part of the Mary Day ceremony makes Lily “feel better about the world” (p. 226) is watching the adults feed each other honey cakes, which they say are the body of the Blessed Mother.

  13. August says that “remembering is everything” and that is why the reenact the chaining of Mary. (p. 228) This bothers Lily because she cannot bear to see Mary chained, and she hates to remember.

  14. The fish necklace that the boys put on Lily is from them tying together the fish they caught and stringing them around Lily’s neck. What upsets her most about the incident is that she could have saved the lives of the fish, but she was too frightened to go into the deeper water.

  15. The new necklace that Zach gives to Lily is his chain and dog tag. He promises Lily that they will be together someday.

  16. The quote at the beginning of this chapter describes how many trips a honeybee must take to make honey. The story symbolizes the many experiences Lily has gone through and will go through in order to experience a few moments of sweetness in her life.


Chapter 12

  1. Lily waiting in August’s room to tell her the truth at last.

  2. Lily says it is a “big shock” when she looks at the pictures of Mary because the angel Gabriel is giving Mary a lily.
  3. August did not tell Lily that she knew who Lily was when she arrived because she knew that Lily was not ready to know about her mother then.


  4. August first got to know Deborah because she was Deborah’s nanny.

  5. The “wall of glass” in Lily’s chest breaks when Lily tells August that T. Ray repeatedly said that Deborah had run away.

  6. August “like a sponge” (p. 238) because she is soaking up Lily’s tears and absorbing Lily’s pain.

  7. Lily thinks that if August still loves her, she be able to look in a mirror and see the river in her own eyes, “flowing on despite the things that had died in it.” (p. 241)

  8. Lily says only one or two moments in your life will you hear “the one secret thing at the heart of it all.” (p. 242)

  9. When Lily hears that secret, she hears that she is unlovable. August says that’s not true, because lots of people love Lily.

  10. How does August explain June’s resentment of Lily?

  11. Interpret this quote: “June always said that most people bit off more than they could chew, but August chewed more than she bit off.” (p. 244)

  12. August describes Deborah as a “real handful” as a little girl. She walked in her sleep, had an imaginary friend, and once ran away from home.

  13. August’s description of T. Ray clashes with Lily’s knowledge of him because August says T. Ray was “so brave” and “treated her like a princess.” (p. 248)

  14. Deborah got married because she was pregnant with Lily. The knowledge upsets Lily because she believes she was an “unwanted baby,” and her mother had “gotten stuck with T. Ray” because of her. (p. 249)

  15. Lily says she wants to be an “amnesiac” when she grows up. She means that she wants to forget her unhappy past.
  16. The final bit of information August gives Lily is that her mother did leave her just like T. Ray had said. Deborah went to Tiburon and left Lily behind. That causes Lily to say she hates her mother.


  17. In defense of Deborah, August says she was depressed when she arrived in Tiburon, so depressed that the doctor suggested sending her to a mental institution.

  18. When she thinks she has disappointed August, Lily says, “Some of my pridefulness drained out.” (p. 253) Lily cannot possibly know what it was like for her mother to have married T. Ray and regretted it and to feel trapped by a marriage and a child.

  19. Deborah back in Sylvan when she was killed because she had come back to get Lily.

  20. Before she leaves, August reminds Lily that “There is nothing perfect. There is only life.”

  21. The quote at the beginning of the chapter relate to Lily’s anguish because it says that the queen, although the mother of the hive, lacks maternal instincts. Lily’s mother apparently also lacked maternal instincts when she abandoned Lily to T. Ray.


Chapter 13

  1. Lily wants Mary to understand her situation.

  2. Lily says the “really terrible thing” is anger. (p. 258)

  3. Lily acts out her anger by throwing all the honey jars, breaking them and getting honey everywhere.

  4. Lily wants the statue to open up and let her climb inside.

  5. Lily says that she could lock the bitter tone in her voice forever. She means that she could easily let her anger and pain dominate her for the rest of her life.

  6. Rosaleen is not surprised when Lily tells her that her mother left her. Rosaleen did not tell Lily that she had suspected as much because she didn’t want to “go and hurt [her] with something like that.” (p. 265)

  7. Rosaleen helps Lily to clean up the mess in the honey house.

  8. Lily asks August to explain everything to Zach.
  9. “Comic relief” is a phrase used to describe something in a drama which helps to lighten the mood, especially after something else. Sugar Girl provides comic relief at this point because her “wig hat” slides around and causes her and her husband to argue. Also, it occurs directly after the emotional revelations about Lily’s mother and Lily’s breaking the jars of honey.


  10. During the Mary ceremony August pours the honey on Mary. Lily is a little annoyed because she and Rosaleen spent a lot of time cleaning honey off Mary, and now the Daughters are pouring honey all over her again.

  11. Lily want to be the last to clean her hands because she feels like she is wearing magic gloves that can preserve anything she touches.

  12. August bring a hat box to Lily. It contains some things that Deborah left behind.

  13. August say that if Lily looks in the mirror, she will see her mother looking back, meaning that Lily looks just like her mother.

  14. Lily finds a strand of her mother’s hair on the brush.

  15. Lily reads the poem by William Blake that her mother had underlined. She believes her mother is the rose, and that she, Lily, is one of the invisible worms that flies in the night.

  16. The picture in the frame shows Lily in a high chair being fed by her mother. Their noses are just touching, and Deborah is smiling.

  17. When she sees this picture, Lily decides that May must have made it to heaven and arranged for this sign to be given to her because the picture lets her know that her mother loved her.

  18. Similes in this chapter: “feeling like concrete block” (p. 258); “like I’d unzipped my skin and momentarily stepped out of it” (p. 259); “small as a stub of diamond” (p. 261); “like she wanted to take me by the shoulders and shake me till my teeth fell out” (p. 261); “like there was something undescribably sad written across my forehead” (p. 263); “like they’d been rocked in a little hammock of tenderness” (p. 264); “like a circle of bee attendants” (p. 269); “like a flock of birds that shifts direction in the sky at the same moment” (p. 270)
  19. The description of the worker bee at the beginning of the chapter fits Lily because she has been carrying a load of secrets and unhappiness that are much too heavy for her. She has been burdened by them for a long time.



Chapter 14

  1. Lily describes her heart with the simile “like an ice sculpture.” (p. 277)

  2. Lily believes people would rather die than forgive.

  3. Lily finds mouse bones under her cot.

  4. Lily thinks she must have loved her “little collection of hurts and wounds” (p. 278) because she realizes that her circumstances make her feel “exceptional,” and, in a strange way, she enjoys that.

  5. The “peculiar nature of the world” (p. 279) is that the world goes on spinning no matter what else is happening.

  6. The mention of the wedding hat and wedding cake provide some comic relief because Lily cannot imaging what sort of wedding hat and cake June will end up with. She thinks June is courageous to have let Lunelle, Violet, and Queenie be in charge of them.

  7. While looking at Lily, August say to June that “regrets don’t help anything.” (p. 280)

  8. Rosaleen is finally going to register to vote.



  1. Lily thinks both she and Zach are “doomed to misery” (p. 283). She thinks she will go back to T. Ray and that Zach will be miserable as the first black boy at the white high school.

  2. Lily runs up the stairs after Rosaleen because she regrets not going with her to see her register to vote. She wants to tell Rosaleen that she loves her.

  3. When Lily cleans out the honey house that night, she finally figures out why she has been carrying around the mouse bones. Lily thinks that sometimes “you just need to nurse something.” (p. 285)
  4. Lily’s last thought as she drifts off to sleep is that “…you just have to close your eyes and breathe out and let the puzzle of the human heart be what it is.” (p. 285)


  5. August shows Lily a queenless hive.

  6. August explains why she told the Beatrix story to Lily, and her reason is not what Lily thought. August was trying to suggest that Mary could act as Lily’s mother.

  7. August tell Lily that she wants Lily always to remember that the statue is not magic like a fairy godmother. She tells her that Mary is already inside of her. August says everyone has to find the mother inside.

  8. T. Ray comes to the door at 2:00 PM.

  9. Lily describes T. Ray’s smile with the metaphor “the fat grin of a man who has been rabbit hunting all day long and has just now found his prey backed up in a hollow log with no way out.” (p. 290)

  10. T. Ray finds Lily through the telephone record of her collect call.

  11. It a shock to T. Ray to see the pin on Lily’s shoulder. He gave the pin to Deborah and he does not know how Lily got it.

  12. What does Lily suddenly understand when T. Ray realizes that he is in the house where Deborah was?

  13. On page 264, Lily “heard the bitter tone” in her own voice and realized that she could “slip off into a cold place where meanness overtook her.” It parallels her realization about T. Ray because she sees that T. Ray has “sunk into bitterness” after Deborah left him (p. 293). T. Ray allowed the meanness to take over.

  14. T. Ray is seeing Deborah when he slaps Lily

  15. Lily brings T. Ray back and makes him see only her when she says, “Daddy.” (p 295)
  16. Lily feels that T. Ray has said “everything” when he says, “You look like her”? (p. 296). Lily realized that T. Ray loved Deborah and was angry and hurt when she left him. He let himself slip into bitterness just as Lily had been tempted to do. She also realizes that as she has gotten older and, every time T. Ray looks at his daughter, he would be seeing the woman who hurt him badly.


  17. Queenie’s expression amuses Lily. It provide comic relief at this tense moment because it’s like Queenie is thinking, “I double dog dare you to take this girl,” just like a small boy on the playground might say to challenge another boy.

  18. August says “If you need something from somebody, always give that person a way to hand it to you.” Rather than threatening T. Ray, August asks him to leave Lily with them as a favor which she and the others would appreciate.

  19. Lily asks her father once more about her mother’s death. Even at this point, Lily isn’t sure he’s telling the truth, as she says you can “never know a hundred percent with T. Ray.” (p. 299)

  20. Lily believes in the “goodness of imagination.” (p. 300) She is imagining that T. Ray knows that she is better off and that she will flourish in the pink house.

  21. Lily’s first girl friend is the lawyer’s daughter, Becca Forrest.

  22. In high school, Lily and Becca get a reputation as “nigger lovers” because they associate with Zach.

  23. August says Mary goes “into the holes life has gouged out of us” when she rises. (p. 302)

  24. The moons shining over Lily are all the Daughters of Mary.



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