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Course Hero, "The Secret Life of Bees Study Guide," August 11, 2017, accessed May 27, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Secret-Life-of-Bees/.

The Secret Life of Bees | Quotes

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1.

You act like you're my keeper. Like I'm some dumb nigger you gonna save.


Rosaleen Daise, Chapter 2

Lily Owens and Rosaleen Daise argue after Lily breaks Rosaleen out of police custody and leads her to the outskirts of Tiburon. As Lily finally shares her reasons for leaving Sylvan, Rosaleen is offended because she, a mature black woman, is being led around by the young white girl she raised. Rosaleen feels insulted by Lily, who has behaved as if Rosaleen doesn't have the sense to protect herself nor to come up with an escape plan. This quote illustrates the ways that race can divide even people who love each other deeply.

2.

There is nothing but mystery in the world ... and we don't even know it.


Lily Owens, Chapter 3

Entering the general store in Tiburon, Lily sees a display of honey jars and realizes that the image reproduced on the labels is the very same one as the black Mary picture she is carrying with her, and that has, in fact, brought her to Tiburon. Lily contemplates that she barely understands the surface of life, let alone the hidden inner workings of things. In even the most mundane things, such as the label on a jar of honey, a great mystery—and intelligence—is evident, if one only has the sense to see it.

3.

[The black Mary] made me feel my glory and my shame at the same time.


Lily Owens, Chapter 4

As soon as Lily Owens enters the Boatwrights' home and lays eyes on the statue of Our Lady of Chains, she feels its power. Lily has not been told the significance of the statue nor the legends surrounding it, and she doesn't know that it is an object of worship in the home. However, she does realize that the statue is the same figure depicted on the picture that has brought her to Tiburon. Lily becomes extremely self-aware in the presence of the statue, as if her good and bad qualities are "seen" by it.

4.

I hadn't known this was possible—to reject people for being white.


Lily Owens, Chapter 5

Overhearing June Boatwright and August Boatwright talking, Lily Owens realizes that the reason June is so cold toward her is that Lily is white. Lily has never experienced "reverse racism"—only the racism of white people toward black people. The experience of being rejected because of her skin color outrages Lily: she is an individual, not a color. The incident builds her empathy for people who are the targets of racism.

5.

It seemed like the world itself became May's twin sister.


August Boatwright, Chapter 5

August Boatwright explains to Lily Owens that May Boatwright had a twin sister, April, who committed suicide when April and May were 15. May has not been the same since April's suicide: she now lacks the capacity to differentiate between her own pain and the pain of others. Having lost her twin, May has become "twinned" with the world, sharing deeply in its experiences with the sort of connection that usually exists only between biological twins. This burden of bearing the world's suffering will eventually drive May to suicide.

6.

[When stories die,] we can't remember who we are or why we're here.


August Boatwright, Chapter 6

On Lily Owens's first Sunday at the Boatwrights', August Boatwright tells the story of Our Lady of Chains, a story the Daughters of Mary have heard again and again. August's comment points to the notion that stories are often the way people make sense of their life experiences. She is taking part in a long oral tradition of telling and retelling narratives that, although they may not be literally true, explain the values, experiences, and aspirations of a community.

7.

[You gotta] imagine what's never been.


Zachary Taylor, Chapter 7

Zachary Taylor shares his fear that his race might prevent him from attaining success as a lawyer. Lily Owens says he could always play professional sports—the one professional arena Lily knows is open to black men. A tense moment ensues: Zach wants to be a lawyer, but Lily has never heard of a black lawyer. Zach's response gets to the heart of political and social change: one must look outside the status quo and have the courage to pursue one's goals, even if they don't seem possible in the present world.

8.

Some things happen in a literal way, [others not] ... but they still happen.


August Boatwright, Chapter 8

When August Boatwright is telling Lily Owens a fantastic story about her grandmother hearing the beehives sing "the words of the Christmas story," Lily asks if August thinks this "really happened." As August explains to Lily, there are different types of truths, and people are, by nature, mythmakers. Myths aren't literally true, but they help people relate to the mysteries of the world around them by expressing truths that cannot be expressed literally.

9.

I loved the idea of bees having a secret life, just like [mine].


Lily Owens, Chapter 8

The second time August Boatwright takes Lily Owens to the beehives, she begins to teach Lily about the intelligence of bees and about their social organization. August points out that bees are complicated creatures that have a "secret life" that humans know little about. She seems to be alluding to Lily's secrets, which she is aware of, even though Lily has not yet confessed them to her. Through August's comment, Lily finds a way to relate to the bees: they have a secret inner life, just as she does.

10.

Life gives way into death, ... death turns around and gives way into life.


August Boatwright, Chapter 10

After May Boatwright commits suicide, August Boatwright takes Lily Owens and Zachary Taylor out to cover the hives with black cloth as a sign of mourning. August explains that she does this to help herself remember the truth of the interconnectedness of life and death: each springs forth from the other, and one cannot exist without the other.

11.

We can't think of changing our skin ... Change the world—that's how we gotta think.


Zachary Taylor, Chapter 11

Lily Owens and Zachary Taylor have expressed their mutual attraction, but they are aware that his being black and her being white makes pursuing a romantic relationship dangerous for Zach in the current political climate. When Lily alludes to the fact that she would be with Zach if only her skin were dark, Zach points out that what needs to change is the racism that divides society, not Lily's skin color.

12.

People can start out one way, and ... end up completely different.


August Boatwright, Chapter 12

When Lily Owens expresses confusion about why her mother would marry a cruel man like T. Ray Owens, August Boatwright points out that life can change people, and not always for the better. T. Ray loved Lily's mother deeply, but her rejection of him turned him into a bitter, cruel man.

13.

Knowing can be a curse on a person's life.


Lily Owens, Chapter 12

When Lily Owens finally speaks with August Boatwright about her mother, she discovers that what her father has said is true: her mother did leave Lily. Lily had convinced herself that her father made this up to hurt her, but with August's confirmation, Lily has to abandon her mental image of her mother as the embodiment of perfection. She cannot yet accept the idea of her mother as an imperfect human being who loved her nonetheless.

14.

[Mary] will not be cast down and bound up ... And neither will her daughters.


August Boatwright, Chapter 13

August Boatwright speaks these words as the Daughters of Mary together unwind the chains from around Our Lady of Chains. August's words signify the spiritual parallel the Daughters are enacting through ritual: as they free Our Lady from her physical chains, they are freed from spiritual and emotional chains.

15.

You have to find a mother inside yourself. We all do.


August Boatwright, Chapter 14

After showing Lily Owens the confusion that falls upon a bee colony that lacks a queen, August Boatwright imparts the heart of her spiritual teaching: the mother that Lily seeks is none other than her power to care for herself. At first, Lily doesn't understand, but by the end of the novel she absorbs this lesson.

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