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Free Study Guide for The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

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FREE BOOK SUMMARY: THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES


CHAPTER SUMMARIES AND NOTES


CHAPTER 1


Summary


It is the summer of 1964 and Lily Owens is lying in her bed watching bees squeeze in and out of cracks in her walls. She is fourteen this summer. Lily thinks about her mother, who died when Lily was a child. She also thinks about Rosaleen, who has taken care of her since her mother’s death and her father, T. Ray, who is gruff and distant. When the bees begin to swarm around Lily, she wakes T. Ray to show him the sight. When T. Ray enters her room, the bees have gone. He threatens to make her kneel in the Martha Whites (grits) if she wakes him again. Lily decides she will catch some bees in a jar to prove she was not making up the story

Lily thinks about the day her mother, Deborah, died. She remembers that her mother was packing in a hurry.
T. Ray came home and he and Deborah started fighting. Lily does not remember everything, but she remembers that there was a gun. Lily remembers picking up the gun and an explosion.

Lily and T. Ray live on a peach farm. He does not let her do things other girls do, like have slumber parties. Lily knows little about fashion and is not popular at school. She thinks she has nice eyes, but that’s about it. No boys at school find her attractive.

Lily starts catching bees in the jar. Even though Rosaleen tells Lily that she is not going to care if Lily comes crying to her about getting stung, Lily knows Rosaleen loves her. Lily thinks about the time Rosaleen bought her a baby chick and argued with T. Ray to let her keep it. Rosaleen has no family. She has lost track of her brothers and sisters and separated from her husband.

T. Ray won’t talk to Lily about her mother, but Lily has managed to collect some information. Lily even has a few items that belonged to Deborah, which she has buried outside.

T. Ray does not like when Lily reads books. Lily thought she would go to beauty school until her teacher, Mrs. Henry, told her how smart she is. Mrs. Henry let Lily borrow her books. T. Ray does not let Lily read when she is selling peaches, so Lily writes poems in her head.

Before Lily started school T. Ray said he wanted to explain what happened to her mother so she would hear it form him and not people gossiping. When Lily tells T. Ray that she remembers the incident, he becomes angry. He tells her that she picked up the gun. She says she remembers picking up the gun, but nothing after that. T. Ray tells her that when she picked up the gun it went off and killed Deborah.

One night Lily goes outside in the orchard and lies down with her mother’s things. T. Ray catches her outside and, thinking she was with a boy, makes her kneel on the Martha Whites. Rosaleen is upset the next day when she sees Lily’s battered knees. Rosaleen tells Lily that she will not be coming the following day because she is going to town. Lily begs to come with her. The next day is Lily’s birthday and she wants to get out of the house. T. Ray does not celebrate her birthday.


The next morning Rosaleen brings Lily a birthday cake, which they eat before they go into town. Rosaleen intends to register to vote--a decision inspired by the recent Civil Rights Amendment. On the way to town, Lily suggests they rest inside her church. Brother Gerald comes into the church and asks Lily why they are there. It is clear that he is not happy Rosaleen is in his church. Rosaleen asks if they can borrow the fans they are using for the rest of their walk. When Brother Gerald says no, Lily tells him Rosaleen was only kidding.

When they get into town Lily and Rosaleen encounter a group of white men who taunt Rosaleen. Rosaleen, who has taken the fans anyway, tells the men she stole them from a church. Rosaleen pours the spit from her snuff jug over the tops of the men’s shoes. The men attack Rosaleen and call the police. The police arrest Rosaleen and tell Lily that they will let her daddy handle her.


Notes


This chapter is a classic exposition. The exposition is the section of a novel in which the main characters and main conflict are introduced. Any relevant background information is also given in this section. Here we learn that the protagonist, Lily, leads a miserable life with her father T. Ray. Her life became miserable when her mother, Deborah, mysteriously died. Lily blames herself for Deborah’s death, although she is not sure if she can believe T. Ray’s accusation that it was her fault. Another important conflict that emerges in this chapter is the issue of race in the Civil Rights South. In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Amendment of 1964. The original purpose of the

Amendment was to provide protection for black men from discrimination. However, at the last minute in an attempt to kill the Bill, it was expanded to protect women from discrimination as well. Under this Amendment, Jim Crow laws were abolished and segregation was forced to end. However, as illustrated in this chapter (as well as the rest of the story), many whites were angered by the Amendment and continued to treat African Americans cruelly.

Every chapter in this novel begins with an epigraph, which captures the main theme of the chapter. Each epigraph involves bees, which Kidd uses as a metaphor for humans and their interactions with one another. In this chapter the epigraph discusses how the queen is the unifying force of the community and once she is gone, the worker bees show signs of “queenlessness.” The general theme of this chapter, then, is how Lily’s life has been affected by her mother’s absence. Queen bees will be used as a symbol for mother or mother-figure throughout this novel, which will continue to prod the conflict of Lily’s “motherlessness” and how she learns to substitute other women as mother-figures and thus, overcomes her sense of “queenlessness.”


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