The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

The tiny worker bee can fly with loads much heavier than herself, the opening quotation asserts.

After learning the truth about her mother, Lily can't sleep. She is angry because she realizes her mother didn't love her with the "bottomless love" she always imagined. She throws a fit inside the honey house, smashing jars of honey everywhere until the entire place is coated with honey. Having done this, she feels empty and hurt: how could her mother leave her? She lies on the floor by Our Lady of Chains, feeling spent.

The following morning, Lily tells Rosaleen what she's learned from August. Rosaleen suspected that Deborah had left Lily, after overhearing a conversation between T. Ray and the neighbor, Mrs. Watson, who cared for Lily in her mother's absence. Lily and Rosaleen clean up the honey house.

Later, the Daughters of Mary, Neil, and Zach come over to finish the Mary Day ceremonies. They carry Our Lady out of the honey house, unchain her, and rub honey (a preservative) into the wood. As she rubs the honey in, Lily feels a sense of peace. They eat and then wash the honey off Our Lady.

August brings Lily a hatbox full of her mother's things. Lily treats the items it contains—a pocket mirror, hairbrush, whale pin, and book of poetry—with reverence. August also gives Lily a photograph of Deborah smiling at baby Lily. Lily recognizes the photograph as the sign of her mother's love she has been looking for, and she feels that May, now in Heaven, must be responsible for the photograph.

Analysis

Once again, Lily deals with her hurt and profound disappointment in her mother by acting on the physical world. Rather than holding her wound inside, where it would fester and continue to hurt her, Lily achieves catharsis—a purging of strong emotions that leads to a sense of spiritual cleanliness and renewal—through twin acts of destruction and preservation. Her destruction of the honey in the honey house takes place while Our Lady of Chains is bound in chains, a concordance that emphasizes Lily's own bondage to her painful emotions. The following day, Our Lady is unchained and Lily completes her catharsis by participating in a communal ritual act of preservation. Both Lily and Our Lady of Chains are freed from their burdens and are lovingly tended to by the community that cares for them both. As the opening quote indicates, Lily has been like a worker bee carrying an impossibly heavy burden. Her burden lifted, she is now ready to "ascend" to higher spiritual levels.

Lily is now also ready to receive her mother's belongings, objects that Joseph Campbell would identify as the "reward" she has been seeking. These objects seem to Lily to have a great spiritual power and significance. Most significant of all is a photograph that shows Deborah smiling lovingly at young Lily. For Lily, this is not just a baby picture—it is a prayer granted, a reward won after great spiritual hardship, proof of her mother's love.

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