The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 2 | Summary



The chapter opens with a quotation describing how a bee colony "swarms," or leaves its old home and finds a suitable new home.

The three white men Rosaleen insulted follow her and Lily to the police station, where one of the men assaults Rosaleen and demands an apology from her. Rosaleen refuses and is thrown in jail. Lily promises her she'll be back for her. T. Ray tells Lily her mother left her when she left their home, returning merely to gather her belongings on the day she died. Lily feels broken by his words. She realizes the bees have flown out of the jar she left open, and she begins to cry. Realizing T. Ray made up this story to punish her, Lily hears a voice saying, "your jar is open," and decides she must leave. Walking down the highway, Lily decides to go to Tiburon, South Carolina—the place written on the back of her mother's black Mary picture. The pastor, Brother Gerald, gives Lily a ride to the police station. At the police station, the officer, Mr. Gaston, tells Lily that Rosaleen is in the hospital after she "took a fall and hit her head."

Lily finds Rosaleen in the hospital, bandaged and tied to the bed. In jail, the three men had beat Rosaleen, but she refused to apologize. Lily tells Rosaleen the men will kill her if she doesn't escape. From a payphone, Lily impersonates the jailer's wife to make the policeman guarding Rosaleen's room leave. She and Rosaleen walk out of the hospital.

Lily and Rosaleen hitchhike and are dropped off in the woods near Tiburon. Lily shows Rosaleen the picture of the black Mary, explaining why they must go to Tiburon. Rosaleen becomes upset, saying Lily's motivation is not to help her, but to look for traces of her mother. They argue, with Lily telling Rosaleen she's "dumb" to have challenged the white men by pouring snuff juice on their shoes. At night, when Lily awakes, she is upset to find Rosaleen gone. She finds Rosaleen bathing nude in a nearby creek, and realizes that all she wants is to say, "Mother, forgive." She and Rosaleen exchange apologies.


Even though there is a profound affection between Lily and Rosaleen, issues of race and power come between them, sometimes causing them to argue. Lily is concerned enough for Rosaleen's life to risk lying on the phone to secure Rosaleen's freedom. Rosaleen, on the other hand, struggles to accept that she, a grown woman, owes her safety and her freedom to the goodwill of a white child. The passage of the Civil Rights Act emboldens Rosaleen to express the anger that, as a black woman, she has had to bear for many years. However, as Lily knows, just because the president passed a law doesn't mean that the attitudes of local racists have changed. Rosaleen is either willing to accept the violence that comes her way as a result of challenging racism, or else she doesn't fully realize she is endangering her very life with her challenge. Lily is protective of Rosaleen, who is the mother figure in her life. Because her father has made Lily believe that she is responsible, albeit accidentally, for her real mother's death, Lily assumes the responsibility of protecting Rosaleen.

Thus far, the bees that Lily catches in her jar have symbolized Lily's own situation. At home, she was trapped by her cruel father, like a bee trapped in a jar. When Lily opens the jar to let the bees out, she realizes that her freedom from her father's tyranny requires only that she have the courage to leave the "jar" she's grown accustomed to living in. In terms of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" narrative pattern, Lily has now answered the call to adventure and committed to leaving behind the world she knows. She steps into the unknown, guided only by the black Mary picture. This picture functions as a type of mentor for Lily. As a doubly symbolic mother—an image of Mary, the mother of Christ, left behind by Lily's own mother—it provides the strength and direction (literally, to Tiburon) that Lily needs to undergo her journey.

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