The Secret Life of Bees | Study Guide

Sue Monk Kidd

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The Secret Life of Bees | Chapter 9 | Summary



The quotation emphasizes the importance of communication within the bee colony.

On July 28 the exceptional heat compels Lily and August to rush out and water the bees. (During the summer, bees need little care because they are busy gathering nectar and pollen from the wealth of flowering plants. A beekeeper doesn't have to feed them but must provide water or make sure the hives have a nearby water source.) The radio announces that the Ranger 7 has landed on the moon and that blacks in South Carolina are marching "asking the governor to enforce the Civil Rights Act." When Lily gets stung, she feels betrayed, but August says this is part of becoming "a true beekeeper." A garden hose water fight heals the tension between Lily and June.

Resting in the heat, Lily is overcome with guilt about her lies and her "fear of being cast out of the pink house." She finds May making trails of sweets to lead roaches out of the house rather than kill them, something Lily remembers T. Ray saying her own mother did. When Lily asks May if she knew her mother, May says that Lily's mother did in fact stay "out there in the honey house." Shocked, Lily falls asleep and dreams that her mother is a roach.

After receiving May's news, Lily becomes nervous, and she now longs to delay learning the full "story that had brought [her mother] here." Sick of living "all hung up in limbo," Lily resolves to tell August the truth and ask about her mother, but Zach intercepts her on her way to talk to August, and they ride to the auto parts store in town. They find six white men waiting by the movie theater, preparing to do violence when Jack Palance brings his colored date to the theater that evening. Zach joins a group of black boys standing there; when a white man approaches them aggressively, one of the boys, Jackson, throws a bottle at him. The police take Zach and the other boys away, forcing Lily to walk back to the Boatwrights'. Clayton Forrest is at the house and promises to get Zach out of jail as soon as possible.

Escorted by policeman Eddie Hazelwurst, Lily and August visit Zach in jail, where Lily promises Zach she will write his story.

May learns of Zach's incarceration when she answers a phone call from Zach's mother on the night of August 2. Extremely upset, May goes to the wailing wall alone, rebuffing August's attempts to accompany her.


Lily's initiation into knowledge and power continues in this chapter. It is not a sweet or easy journey, like the trail of sweets May makes to lead bugs out of the house, but an arduous one where darkness after darkness must be confronted. The larger world is also in turmoil and transition. Long-standing mysteries and tensions are being brought to the surface, signified by the landing of the Ranger 7 on the moon, the black community's demand for enforcement of their rights, and by Zach's unjust incarceration when one of his peers attacks a white man.

There are also victories, however, along the difficult path to knowledge: Lily finds the strength to create sisterhood with June by engaging her playfully during a water fight; June finds the strength to overlook her distrust of Lily's whiteness and to accept her as a spiritual sister. Lily also seizes the opportunity to ask the question she's been wanting to ask when May makes a trail of sweets just like Lily's mother used to do. The answer she receives is not unexpected, but still somehow shocking. Pain is part of the initiation into greater power and knowledge, as August points out when Lily gets stung by a bee. Lily is becoming a true beekeeper. She is also becoming a strong woman, able to bear darkness and act with courage.

Not wanting to overwhelm delicate, sensitive May with the upsetting news of Zach's incarceration, her sisters keep the information a secret from her. However, May finds out anyway, and her despair is profound. Her retreat to the "wailing wall," alone and nearly catatonic with despair, does not bode well, as August intuits. August wonders if perhaps it would have been better if the sisters had told May the truth and helped her process it. Kidd illustrates the way secrets, no matter the reason for them, have a way of rising to the surface and doing harm. Lily's secrets about why she has come to the Boatwrights' are certainly harming her: she lives in a constant state of "limbo" between truth and lies, torn by guilt and fear. Her secrets must rise to the surface and be addressed before she can ever be free, but letting secrets rise takes strength and a willingness to face painful outcomes.

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