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

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Edition: Penguin, 2003

1. “People who think dying is the worst thing don’t know a thing about life.” Lily, p.2

Lily says this in the beginning of the novel during the exposition. This is an important quote because Lily’s life has been profoundly affected by her mother’s death. This statement suggests that living with someone else’s death can be more painful that dying.

2. “Please, Lily, you are insulting your fine intelligence. Do you have any idea how smart you are?” --Mrs. Henry, p.16

Lily’s teacher says this to her when Lily mentions that she wants to be a hairdresser. This is an important quotation because it shows that Lily’s self-esteem is low from living with T. Ray and that believing in someone can be very powerful. After Mrs. Henry says this to Lily, Lily believes she can be a writer and practices whenever she can.

3. “The truth is your mother ran off and left you.” -T. Ray, p.39

T. Ray says this to Lily when they return from the jail. Lily is so outraged by this statement that she runs away, only to find out he was telling truth.

4. “But she’s white, August.” -June, p.87

June says this to August about Lily. When Lily overhears June make this comment, she becomes angry and thinks how absurd it is to dislike someone for her skin color. This is an interesting moment in the novel because white people do not usually experience this type of discrimination.

5. “Well if you have a queen and a group of independent-minded bees that split off from the rest of the hive and look for another place to live, then you’ve got a swarm.” -August, p. 93

This statement explains how Lily feels, having broken away from her “hive.” She is moving senselessly, like bees in a swarm.

6. “Our mother said she was like Mary, with her heart on the outside of her chest.” -August, p. 97

August says this about May. This statement characterizes May’s emotional personality.

7. “Lily, I like you better than any girl I’ve ever known, but you have to understand, there are people who would kill boys like me for even looking at girls like you.” -Zach, p.135

Zach says this to Lily regarding any potential romantic relationship between them. This comment shows how unfair racism is. Young love is typically carefree and easy. However, as young teenagers, Lily and Zach have to think about the prejudices of the larger society.

8. “Most people don’t have any idea about all the complicated life going on inside a hive. Bees have a secret life we don’t know anything about” -August, p.148

This quotation is significant because, developing the metaphor of society as hive and bee as human, it shows that people are typically much more complicated that then appear on the surface.

9. “Putting black cloths on the hives is for us. I do it to remind us that life gives way into death, and then death turns around and gives way into life.” -August, p.206

Death as giving way to life is seen twice in this novel. The first instance is the way that May’s death propels June to marry Neil, thus establishing their new life together. The second time is when Lily finally reconciles with her mother’s death and is set free to truly begin her own life.

10. “It was you who did it, Lily. You didn’t mean it, but it was you.” T. Ray, p. 299

This statement occurs during the novel’s climax. Lily chases T. Ray and asks him if she was responsible for Deborah’s death. That Lily chases T. Ray in order to find out this information suggests she is prepared for the possibility that she has killed her mother. In allowing herself to know this information, Lily begins to forgive herself for the past.

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