The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 12 | Summary



Although the queen is the mother of the hive, the opening quotation notes that she "spends her days confined in darkness, a kind of eternal night, perpetually in labor."

That night, Lily waits in August's room, planning to tell her the truth. In one of August's books, she finds a picture of the angel Gabriel giving the Virgin Mary a lily as he announces that she will bear Jesus Christ. August reveals she has always known that Lily is Deborah's daughter. August took care of Deborah when she was a child in Richmond, and she tells Lily about her mother's childhood. August holds Lily as her grief comes to the surface and she breaks down. Lily tells August about breaking Rosaleen out of the hospital, about being responsible for her mother's death, and about how she ended up coming to the Boatwrights'. When Lily says she feels unlovable, August tells her she is loved by everyone at the house.

When Lily wonders why her mother married T. Ray, August says he wasn't always so mean. Nevertheless, Deborah married T. Ray because she was pregnant with Lily. Unhappy in the marriage and deeply depressed, Deborah came to the Boatwrights' when Lily was a baby, leaving Lily with T. Ray. When she had been at the Boatwrights' for three months, she returned to Sylvan to get Lily. It was then that she died. Hearing that her mother did leave her, Lily feels hatred for her mother. August tries to comfort her, saying, "there is nothing perfect," but Lily cannot yet forgive her mother.


In this chapter, Lily confronts the worst part of her ordeal, facing the fear she's been carrying around since arriving at the Boatwrights'. She tells August the truth about why she is there and receives the painful truth that her mother left her behind when she left home. In terms of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" narrative schema, Lily now reaches the height of the ordeal she must endure in order to emerge with what she seeks. It is painful for Lily to learn that T. Ray's version of events is true. With this knowledge, she experiences the "death" of her illusions about her mother as a perfect woman who loved her perfectly and thus would never have left her behind. Lily focuses exclusively on the fact that her mother left her rather than on the fact that Deborah eventually returned for her.

Since Lily lost her mother when she was four years old, it was easy and natural for her to idealize Deborah. August reminds Lily that Deborah was human, and therefore imperfect—a suffering being who made choices in response to her suffering that put her daughter second. She was not the divine mother, the embodiment of maternal perfection, that Lily thought she was. Lily's quest, as Kidd now clarifies, is not just for knowledge of her human mother, but for a connection with the spirit of the Divine Mother. Our Lady of Chains is a symbol of the Divine Mother that Lily seeks. However, as August has pointed out, the power of Our Lady of Chains resides not in the wood she is made of, but in the hearts of those who worship her. Lily must find the Divine Mother she seeks, but where? Kidd leads the reader to consider whether this Divine Mother may exist not out in the world separate from Lily, but within her.

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