The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

A single pound of honey, the opening quotation claims, is made from nectar gathered over "ten million foraging trips."

Lily longs to tell August the truth about why she is at the Boatwrights', but she doesn't because the sisters go into mourning after May's vigil. Lily spends her time writing and thinking about where she and Rosaleen could go next. Zach, who is alight with political anger, begins visiting Lily. They do not act on their mutual attraction because of their racial difference.

The weeklong mourning period ends with a special candlelit dinner, after which August puts May's suicide note into a crevice in the statue of Our Lady of Chains. Lily and Rosaleen had been sleeping in May's room during the mourning period, but now Lily moves back into the honey house. She plans to tell August the truth the following day.

The following day, August 15, is the Feast of the Assumption (commemorating the day the Virgin Mary ascended into Heaven following her death). At the Boatwrights' house, the women celebrate "Mary Day" by reenacting the story of Our Lady of Chains. June finally accepts Neil's marriage proposal. All the women spend the day preparing for Mary Day. That evening, after feeding each other honey cakes, they carry the statue to the honey house and wrap it in chains in a reenactment of the Lady of Chains legend. During the reenactment, Lily walks out to the river and Zach follows. Lily tells Zach the story of a time when some boys tied a string of newly caught fish around her neck. Despite Lily's pleas for the string to be untied and her attempts to save the fish by going into the water, the fish died around her neck. Zach and Lily kiss. He tells her he plans to go to college and become a lawyer, and he promises that they will be together later, "after [he's] gone away and become somebody." He puts his dogtag necklace around Lily's neck.

Analysis

In this chapter, more life springs forth in the wake of May's death. Rituals help guide the household through the process of grieving and back into a place of joy. Lily's writing in her notebook is her cleansing ritual. August and June adhere to a weeklong period of mourning before placing May's suicide note in the statue of Our Lady of Chains. This is a ritual acknowledgement of the power of the divine mother, embodied in the statue: this spiritual power is capable of absorbing and cleansing the deepest of griefs.

The Feast of the Assumption is an old Christian celebration of death, likely observed since sometime around the year AD 500. Catholics celebrate August 15 as the day on which Mary, the mother of Jesus, died and, like her son before her, ascended into heaven. The Daughters of Mary have made this Catholic holy day their own by reimagining it as Mary Day. Instead of observing Jesus's crucifixion and his subsequent resurrection, they observe the chaining of Our Lady of Chains and her subsequent breaking free of those chains. Lily is unable to tolerate the sight of the chained statue because she is still "chained" by her secrets and lies about why she came to the Boatwrights'.

Lily exits the ceremony only to confront her own "chaining" by her past and then to undergo a symbolic "chaining" by Zach. She tells Zach the story of being "chained" by a string of fish and being forced to endure their suffering and death around her neck. Relating this story is a healing experience for her, and Zach acknowledges this, as well as his love for Lily, by "chaining" her with his dogtag necklace bearing his name. Lily could not endure the chaining of the black Mary, nor the chaining of the fish around her neck, but she accepts the burden of Zach's chain—the burden of a love that must remain hidden until Zach has achieved his goal of becoming a lawyer. Zach knows that he must "ascend" into his own potential and transcend the societally inflicted limitations of his "blackness" before he has the power to act on his love for Lily.

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