The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 14 | Summary



Every colony needs a queen to survive, says the opening quotation.

After August gives her the hatbox containing Deborah's things, Lily begins spending time alone at the river, plagued by thoughts of the mother she is unable to forgive. She puts the hatbox under her cot and begins carrying around some mouse bones she finds there, without knowing why. She worries that she will soon be made to leave the Boatwrights'.

Finally, Lily feels ready to rejoin the world. Rosaleen is very pleased with herself after August takes her to register to vote. Zach tells Lily he plans to attend the white high school that year, thereby integrating it.

That night, Lily cleans the honey house, placing the mouse bones and her mother's things on a shelf. The following morning, August takes Lily out to the beehives to show her a hive that is missing its queen. Unless a new queen is procured quickly, the hive will die out.

August reminds Lily of the story of Beatrix she told her in Chapter 5: a young nun, Beatrix, runs away from the convent. After being on the streets, she longs to return but knows she can't go back. When she finally returns in disguise, the sisters tell her that Beatrix never left, and they point to another woman. Beatrix knows the woman is Mary, and realizes Mary "had been standing in for her." August suggests that "maybe Our Lady could act for Deborah and be like a stand-in mother for" Lily. Like everyone, Lily must "find a mother inside" herself, August tells her.

Tipped off about Lily's location by the collect call she placed from Clayton Forrest's office, T. Ray comes to the Boatwrights', determined to take Lily with him. He takes out a penknife and begins using it to carve into the chair where he sits. Seeing Lily wearing the whale pin that he gave Deborah, T. Ray understands that Deborah came to the Boatwrights' when she left him. Enraged, he hits Lily hard in the face. Lily now realizes that her mother's leaving turned T. Ray's love to bitterness. Seemingly in a trance and believing that Lily is Deborah, T. Ray hits her and tries to drag her out the door. Lily, fearing for her life, calls him back to reality by shouting, "Daddy!" When he snaps out of his trance, Lily folds up the knife and hands it to him.

Lily refuses to leave the Boatwrights'. August, Rosaleen, and the Daughters of Mary arrive and confront T. Ray. August says Lily is her "apprentice beekeeper" and that she will be well cared for if she continues to live there. T. Ray proclaims "good riddance" and leaves. As he drives away, Lily runs after him and asks for the truth about her mother's death. T. Ray repeats that Lily accidentally shot her mother dead.

After June's October 10 wedding, Lily moves into her bedroom. She becomes friends with Becca, Clayton Forrest's daughter. Lily, Becca, and Zach attend high school, and all three bear the aggression and racist insults aimed at Zach by the other students. Lily writes prolifically and becomes the new "wall keeper." She visits Our Lady daily, feeling that "her Assumption into heaven [is] happening in places inside [her]." Daily she recalls how on the day T. Ray left, she realized that she has "more mothers than any eight girls off the street."


This chapter shows Lily completing her "Hero's Journey." The primary burden of hearing the truth about her mother and telling the truth about herself and Rosaleen running away is lifted. Despite this, and the catharsis she experienced in the previous chapter, Lily still has to face the grief that remains in the space where illusion used to be, as well as her fears about the future. She wrestles with these issues by retreating into nature and solitude. Carrying the mouse skeleton is a symbolic vigil for the death of her illusions: she must remain with the "body" of these illusions a little while longer until she is finally ready to "bury" it, just as the sisters kept vigil for May's body after her death.

But as the opening quote points out, and as August demonstrates to Lily by showing her a queenless hive, it is not enough to "bury" one's mother. One must find a new, living queen bee/mother, or else suffer spiritual death. The mother Lily has been seeking all along is not Deborah, nor is it Our Lady of Chains. It is a spiritual power that Lily carries within herself, and all she must do is recognize it. August explains that all people must learn to "mother" themselves—to care for themselves and to love themselves unconditionally. It is only then that people have the strength required to face life fully.

In terms of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" narrative schema, T. Ray's reappearance and the ensuing struggle between him and Lily is a "resurrection." This is a final test in the journey that brings the hero even greater spiritual power. For this test, Lily is made to relive her mother's death. She did this once already, in Chapter 8, when she relived it inside her mind as the bees covered her. This time, however, she is made to relive the events of that day from the standpoint of Deborah, who T. Ray, in his temporary madness, believes Lily to be. There is physical violence, just as on that day, but instead of a gun, there is a knife. When four-year-old Lily picked up the gun on that day 10 years ago, it went off in her hands, occasioning the tragedy that has defined her life; now, when Lily picks up the knife and returns it to her father, no violent accident occurs.

This scene between Lily and her father is a catharsis allowing them both to let go of the hurt they've been nursing since Deborah's death. Lily is supported in her catharsis by the Boatwright sisters and the Daughters of Mary, who appear by her side to support, protect, and advocate for her with unconditional motherly love. A resurrection is completed when T. Ray consents to Lily's living with the Boatwrights. When he confirms Lily's accidental shooting of her mother, Lily understands she will never know the absolute truth about her mother's death, but she can leave the guilt and grief of those mysterious events behind. She realizes she has a house full of mothers who love her. Even more, she has established herself as a strong member of a meaningful community; she has, in a sense, become her own mother. Having come of age, Lily fully pursues her passion for writing. Her own deep wound healed, she now has the strength to help heal the wounds of others. She does this by tending to the "wailing wall" and by standing in solidarity with Zach as he integrates the white high school that year.

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